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Did you know that in his lifetime, Hans Christian Andersen was as well known for cutting out beautiful shapes in paper as he was for his fairy tales? Well, we didn't. Until an actual living relative of the great Hans Christian Andersen himself told us! (Sort of.)
It happened in February at the Spring Fair in Birmingham, an industry event held at a location (the Birmingham NEC) we’re told is roughly the size of 26 football pitches. We were there to find something special, and that we did.
Sourcing the best products for our lovely customers was exhilarating. Especially when something so unexpected and exciting happened, like spotting a little corner stand that sparkled – literally. Oddly enough, what caught our attention was an arrangement of candle holders – not the kind of thing we were looking for (or thought we were looking for!) – but then these weren’t just any old candle holders. They were specifically themed on the original designs from papercuttings of Hans Christian Andersen!
Plated in gold and silver and cut in an array of unusual, dream-like shapes, the holders contain exact replicas of just a few of the thousands of papercuttings Andersen created in his lifetime. They depicted ballet dancers and soldiers, angels and elves and more. The Angels and Elves design was created in 1874 as a gift for Elisabeth Moller, the daughter of a local Dean. Her account of his generous gift to her reads:
'Hans Christian Andersen and I were guests at the same time on Holsteinsborg. One day when we had to go to the dinner table, he came and gave me a bouquet. "There should really have been a little flowers paper around" he said, then he took scissors and paper from his pocket and cut it while I looked at it.'
Though Andersen's papercuttings are less well known today than his fairy tales are, they reveal another dimension to his breathtaking creative abilities. Not only was he adept at activating our imaginations through the words he put on paper, but he could also use paper as a means of storytelling in itself.
As we know, paper’s quality deteriorates over time. But where there’s a will there’s a way, and while the paper itself might age, the designs themselves wouldn’t. Which begged the question: why limit them to paper when they can be applied to more durable materials such as brass and porcelain instead? If anything, transferring the designs in this way simply means that the designs can be passed from generation to generation in much the same way that Andersen's much-loved fairy tales are.
While browsing the full range of enchanting items on display, an impeccably dressed man with a somewhat indistinct European accent offered to fill in more of the back story. His company had previously been the suppliers for the Danish goldsmith industry but had since turned their attention towards developing unique designs for jewellery, decorations and gifts. He introduced himself to us as Michael Nordahl Andersen. It took another few moments of idle chatting before some distant alarm finally went off in our brains – ‘His surname is Andersen...like, Hans Christian Andersen?’
Putting our keen detective skills to the fore, we asked Michael if he was indeed related to the source of inspiration for his amazing gift products. ‘No, unfortunately I am no relation of Hans Christian...that I know of, at least’, he said.
‘But we are from the same hometown of Odense, in Denmark.’ Hmmm. The same surname? The same hometown? The same papercut designs? Our detective instincts told us that this wasn’t some mirage, or a simple coincidence. With a knowing smile and nod, we agreed it was a pity that Michael and Hans Christian were probably not related. At least, not to Michael’s knowledge. But given the body of evidence, we felt we probably knew better. That’s our story anyway, and we’re sticking to it.