A Brief History of Harmony Kingdom
The Garden Shed Days: 1989
The quirky little boxes were born in a garden shed outside of Weaver's Cottage, Martin Perry and his wife Corinna’s former home. The year was 1989 and inside the shed, with a spectacular view of the surrounding Cotswold countryside, Martin first began to craft the box figurines. He created a process that made marble resin look like antique ivory, a process now employed by Harmony Kingdom, and his sole objective was to make a modest income to support his young family. The "assembly line" consisted of a table top that held a set number of pre-cast pieces. The manufacturing process was too ambitious at the time so a company in Somerset did the molding and casting, after which Martin tinted and hand-painted each piece and sold in flea markets and nearby shops. These early pieces included; the netsuke reproductions, animal piles, and what are now referred to as Large Treasure Jests.
The first of Martin’s netsuke - the traditional, intricately carved ivory miniatures used as fasteners for kimonos, were actually reproductions, molds were made from original ivory carvings, but later he began to make original models. The pieces he produced included: M2 Pigs, M5 Monkeys, M7 Rat On Pumpkin, M10 Chick In Egg and, M14 Rats On Cornsack. The codes shown are the alphanumeric system that Martin began in 1989 and which he still uses to this day to track his molds.
Then came what were called "piles," carved stacks of animals piled atop one another. Those pieces included: Frog, Armadillo, Hedgehog, Seal and, Cat.
As his company grew, Martin realized he needed a Master Sculptor, and in 1990, Peter Calvesbert joined the company. Peter had no formal training, but his quirky and humorous animal carvings set the tone for what was to come. Today, Peter is known as Harmony Kingdom’s most prolific and well-recognized master carver.
During this period, Martin came up with the idea of making his figurines into boxes, and he used an actual tortoise shell as the mould to cast his first box. He called it a "Treasure Jest". As business continued to grow, Martin was designing and casting pieces in his garden shed, while Corinna took charge of the painting, farming out pieces to women in local Cotswold villages to paint at home. Peter sculpted six duck box figurines that are now referred to as Large Treasure Jests. Those included: Drake’s Fancy, Keeping Current, Pondering, and Quiet Waters, which were later included in the Harmony Kingdom collection.
In the early days, quite a few of Peter's carvings were never produced as Martin was still learning what could and could not be done in the manufacturing process. One such experiment was Peter's "Punk Rock Hedgehog." Getting the castings out of the moulds was extremely difficult. In 1992 Martin began to focus on what are now referred to as "Small Treasure Jests" as he could fit more of the smaller pieces on his worktable. The first small box figurine carved by Peter was "Forty Winks," a downsized version of "Sunnyside Up," finished in March 1992. It was soon followed by "Princely Thoughts" in April 1992, a miniature version of "Awaiting A Kiss."
By September 1993, Peter created five new small box designs, including "All Tied Up," "Hammin' It Up," "At Arm's Length," "Shell Game" and "Reminiscence." With these designs, Peter introduced his signature mouse. Between 1990 and 1993 "Treasure Jests", both large and small had no interior carvings. The first "inside surprise" appeared in "Jonah's Hideaway", December, 1993. Before 1994, many of the pieces had no markings indicating copyright or manufacturer which created the potential fakes on the secondary market. The signature "treble clef" was added to the interiors starting in September, 1994. Then in July, 1995, the distinctive "crown stamp" was marked on every piece, at first on the bottom, and subsequently on the inside of the lid. These variations in markings help to date a piece, the earlier being the more valuable.
Introducing Harmony Kingdom: 1995
While attending a Gift Fair in Germany in 1994, Noel Wiggins and Lisa Yashon, who had built a business in Columbus, Ohio of importing silver balls from Mexico, discovered "Treasure Jests.” This chance meeting would irrevocably imprint Harmony Kingdom as they promptly placed an order with Martin. Originally, HBC sold the boxes with a chiming ball inside, but retailers soon began to ask for the humorous boxes without any jewelry. In a strategy to conquer the collectibles market they came up with the name "Harmony Kingdom", divided the figurines into separate lines, retired four early pieces, started a collectors club, and convinced Martin to make some limited editions. By 1995, HBC had acquired the world-wide distribution rights outside the UK.
Each Harmony Kingdom sculpture starts off as a plasticene clay carving. Master moulds are taken from the original, and then pieces are cast from Martin’s proprietary mixture of marble dust and resin. After hardening, they are stained and gently polished in a stone-filled tumbler, giving them their ivory-like lustre. Finally, each piece is hand-painted by a collection of talented artists in England. In 1997, the huge demand forced some of the production to move to China, notably the "Harmony Garden" series.
In August of 2012, Noel and Lisa at Harmony Ball Company in America handed over the Harmony Kingdom reins to Peter and Andrea Calvesbert. Today, all Harmony Kingdom pieces are carved solely by Master Carver Peter Calvesbert in his garden shed studio in the lee of the Malvern Hills near Worcestershire, England.
Sources: "The Harmony Kingdom Reference Guide" by Leanna Barron, published by HBC; and the Harmony Kingdom Website
For a selection of Secondary Market pieces and to purchase a HK Reference Guide, I invite you to visit Dezign Zoo Collectibles