Once I had made the decision to return to University, I was able to reflect and appreciate how lucky I have been to handle such an array of social history and renowned silversmiths work first hand. In the last few months of employment, some of the finest pieces of silver from some of my favoured makers and periods passed through my hands and over my desk.
Firstly, a silver dish by Omar Ramsden, hallmarked in 1934, and designed with his distinct Arts & Crafts flair, an absolute joy to handle, the thick gage of the silver and with a planished finish to the hand raised elliptical form. Over the years I have handled a number of Ramsden pieces, but this was by far my favourite to date.
It’s rare for me to favour such a modern maker, but a 1970’s condiment set, caster and candlesticks by eminent silversmith Robert Welch were compelling. Welch studied at the Birmingham College of Art and later a contemporary of Gerald Benney at the RCA. He established his workshop in the same home that Charles Ashbee and the Guild of Handicraft occupied in Chipping Camden. Sublime craftsmanship, tactile, and sits with such balance in the hand.
I have witnessed the rise and the flattening in the market of Chinese export silver. A tea service by Tack Hing made at the turn of the century embellished with engraved bamboo upon a stippled background highlights perfectly the balance between eastern flair and western tastes at the time of production.
Lastly toys, miniatures and novelties. From the middle of the eighteenth-century Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter was renowned for producing ‘toys’ such as vinaigrettes, card case, pin cushions, caddy spoons and snuff boxes. Key English maker’s I relished identifying included Nathaniel Mills, George Unite, Sampson Mordan and Levi & Salaman.
The layers of skill were always so evident to me in toys and miniatures, from the hand engraving, engine-turning and enamelling all so precisely executed. I have been conditioned to critically evaluate the craftsmaship of a silversmith, in comparison as a relatively inexperienced maker, I am interested to see how my trained eye will cope generating my own work back at the bench.