The history of silver production in this country is a long and rich one, the products of the silver industry are wonderfully varied giving us silver in all its fantastic variety and beauty. Silver is a wonderful material when treated with skill and imagination, favoured by the most ambitious and wealthiest patrons, our institutions, stately homes and museums are full of the most magnificent objects. From the splendour of the very best Rococo silver produced by the likes of Paul De Lamerie, which is the equal of anything produced in silver anywhere in the world, to the more restrained linear designs of the Neoclassicists and the rich silver gilt of the Regency period items were made for the wealthiest sections of society. British Royalty, our wealthiest institutions and the landed nobility have always demand the latest fashions, the finest craftsmanship and the most ostentatious displays of wealth resulting in some of the the most magnificent silver ever produced.
Beyond the early nineteenth century the industrial revolution had a significant impact on the silver trade with the beginnings of a mass market of the newly monied looking to indulge in the luxuries beyond the reach of their parents. The appearance of large-scale manufacturing firms at this time led to more items in silver being produced than ever before.
A reaction to industrialisation from the Arts and Crafts movement is as apparent in silver production as any other field, the obviously handcrafted work produced by the Guild of Handicraft and others is instantly recognisable and very collectable today. During the first half of the twentieth century we see the development of crafts-based workshops working with the leading styles of the time, Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Modernism, but these form a very small part of the overall market for silver which is largely concerned with reproduction styles for the growing middle classes.
What of more recent times? how does silver fit into the postwar world, who in the second half of the twentieth century buys silver, and what do they buy and what happens to progressive design and innovation. We could quite imagine silver disappearing from most people’s homes at this time and in order to survive Silversmithing needed to reinvent itself, this happened with the help of influential support from Goldsmiths’ Hall and some progressive courses at the Royal College of Arts in London which launched a new generation of designers to prominence.
In this talk we will consider how this ‘reinvention occurred’, how designers and makers adapted to their new markets, what they produced and how. During the 1970’s silver found a new popularity and prominence in society. We will look at the work of such great designers as Gerald Benney, Stuart Devlin and Robert Welch from the immediate postwar period and consider what is being made today, and in what state we find the current silver trade.
Many collectors still ignore the work of more recent designers, the traditional element in silver collecting is still often all too apparent, but with a thriving market and new collectors the best work from the 1960’s and 1970’s is becoming ever more popular. This talk will introduce you to some great designers and show how diverse silver can be and how a traditional craft rooted in tradition, royalty and wealth found a wider more diverse market.