Brass, Pewter & Cutlery in the Collections
Brass is an alloy or mixture of copper and zinc: 83% copper produces a golden lustre; 90% gives a reddish glow. Brass melts at 850ºC and can be cast into patterned moulds or into sheets which are hammered into shape. Brass is a versatile material. Candlesticks and durable basins show it as an industrial metal marketed for a range of mass-produced items. Exquisitely engraved tobacco boxes and Arts and Crafts bowls reveal brass as an 'art' metal.
Before 1600, European brass manufacture flourished in Nuremberg, whose councils protected local trade zealously. Venice was the centre of trade with Muslim countries to the east, whose decorative styles influenced Italian engravers. In England the industry developed slowly until 1700, when new foundries in Birmingham and Bristol rapidly expanded brass manufacture.
The V&A's brass collection covers a wide range of dates and styles - from medieval water jugs with lion-head spouts to sleek warming dishes of the early 20th century. The market for brass was large. It included mass-produced goods, lighting for middle-class houses and clocks for the aristocracy.
Most brass items were not for display, but were functional. People used brass fireguards, soap containers and tobacco boxes in their homes. Brass candlesticks and holy-water buckets played their part in church services.
The Museum has collected brass since its earliest days. Two of the collection's strengths are its candlesticks, reflecting 350 years of changes in style across Europe, and the dishes, which illustrate the great traditions of basin-beating in Germany and engraving in Italy.
Candlestick, cast brass
England; about 1500
This is an early example of an English candlestick. Similar candlesticks have been found in the River Thames in London. The yellowish glow suggests a relatively high zinc content.
Before electricity, lighting one's home was an expensive, time-consuming and smelly business. Candles of beeswax or tallow (animal fat) gave a dim light and needed constant attention. The tallow or wax burned faster than the wick and needed constant trimming. The candle stub of burnt down animal fat or beeswax would have been extracted and melted down to make new candles.
Brass, chased and engraved with silver inlay
Venice, Italy; about 1550-1600
Coat of arms (unidentified)
Venice was the centre of a flourishing trade with Egypt, Syria and Persia. The city exported sheet copper and brass, which then returned in the form of elaborately engraved and inlaid metalwork for the local aristocratic market. Venetian craftsmen also copied Islamic designs. This dish is a masterpiece of the engraver's art. It is adorned with 'arabesques', interlaced vines and stems, which became a feature of European metalwork in the 16th century.
Brass, cast, chased and engraved
Venice, Italy, 1550-1600
Coat of arms (unidentified)
This candlestick exemplifies the great mix of cultural influences on Venetian brasswork. The shape was associated with Nuremberg in southern Germany. The density of the engraving followed the local fashion for Islamic design. The depictions of flowers, grotesques and Bacchus (the god of wine), rather than abstract interlaced work, have a distinctly Italian flavour.
Astronomical Compendium, sheet copper
Sheet copper, gilt and engraved
Augsburg, Germany, dated 1557
Made by Christopher Schissler (about 1531-1609) and signed in Latin 'Christopher Schissler made me in Augsburg in the year 1557'
This is an astronomical compendium and includes a sundial for four latitudes, a nocturnal dial with chronomatic tables, a compass, tables giving phases of the moon, and a table of latitudes for London, Amsterdam, Oxford, Paris and other cities. The compendium was made to a popular pattern but the towns engraved were specific to its owner's interests. It may have once belonged to a German prince or a wealthy travelling merchant.
The V&A has a small but significant collection of scientific instruments, collected primarily for its decorative qualities. Sheet brass is ideal for making scientific instruments. It is hard-wearing, easily engraved, light and portable.
Specialist makers of scientific instruments emerged during the 1550s. They catered for an increased interest in navigation, travel, geography and the workings of the universe. By the 17th century, it was fashionable for wealthy gentlemen to have a sound understanding of all branches of learning, from arts and literature to mathematics and the natural sciences. Scientific instruments were designed to impress as well as educate.
Schissler's workshop was famous. He specialised in sundials and compendia and produced instruments for the great Danish astronomer, Tycho Brahe.
Candlestick, cast brass
England, about 1650
From the 14th to the 17th century, brass candlesticks were the most common form of lighting in well-to-do households. Candlestick designs changed according to fashion, but also for practical purposes. In the 17th century they were made with wide spreading bases for stability and centrally-placed drip pans to catch the wax or fat.
This trumpet shaped candlestick is cast in two sections. The body is hollow cast, the corrugations giving strength to the shaft. The nozzle was often detachable to prevent the candle from falling into the shaft when the wax melted. This kind of candlestick is often seen in contemporary still-life paintings.
Brass, cast and gilded
Zurich, Switzerland; about 1680
Probably made in the workshop of Hans Peter Oeri (1637-92)
This gilded buckle, cast and chased with fighting foxes and hounds, once fastened a cartridge belt for hunting. It was probably made in the workshop of the celebrated Swiss goldsmith, Hans Peter Oeri. Unlike English goldsmiths, European workshops specialised in a variety of metals. Oeri, in German-speaking Zurich, followed the great metalworking traditions of nearby Augsburg and Nuremberg.
Tobacco box, sheet and cast brass
Sheet and cast brass, engraved
The Netherlands, 1690-1700
This tobacco box contains several compartments all exquisitely engraved with scenes illustrating the virtues of a sober family life. Inside the lid a woman is depicted committing adultery in full view of her husband. An inscription in Dutch translates as, 'How can a young woman bully an old man? Another makes the baby and I like a mother rock the cradle'.
Another compartment is engraved with a husband and wife at odds and the inscription 'I have an old husband who gives me no pleasure, but Venus manages the business so that I have no reason to complain'. The base has a false bottom. Its lid depicts a happy family, with the inscription, 'One finds nothing so sweet in fidelity as love between a man and wife',
The two exterior faces show scenes from classical mythology promoting selfless dedication: Aeneas escaping burning Troy with his father Anchises, and Alexander visiting Diogenes.
Cup, copper-gilt and crystals
Copper-gilt and crystals
Herrengrund , Hungary (now Spania Dolina, Slovakia); about 1700
Inscribed in German 'I come from iron but the power of the water has turned me into copper in a mine in Herrengrund'.
This is a souvenir from about 1700 of the Herrengrund copper mines in Hungary. Its inscription alludes to the miracles wrought by the local water. High in copper sulphate, the water collected in hollows and deposited copper on to iron scraps. In the centre of the cup is a miner at work, surrounded by crystals of iron pyrites.
Door Furniture, brass
Brass, cast and gilt
England; about 1775
This fine set of door furniture is a recent addition to the V&A collections. It is based on designs by one of Britain's greatest 18th-century architects, Robert Adam (1728-92), and was probably made by an important Midlands locksmith, Thomas Blockley (1705-89). The design reflects Adam's professed aim for 'light mouldings, gracefully formed'. The urn-shaped escutcheon swivels to reveal a key hole plate, while one of the rams' heads turns to act as a secondary bolt. The other is a dummy to balance the design.
Snuff Box, sheet copper
Sheet copper, raised, tinned inside and engraved
England, dated 1792
Owner's initials 'IAR, 1792'
Croft Lyons bequest
Tobacco was introduced into Europe from South America in the 1560s. Over the next 100 years smoking became popular, particularly in Britain and the Netherlands, although taking snuff (powdered tobacco) was considered more gentlemanly. Snuff-taking required proper etiquette. One inhaled a pinch in each nostril from the base of the thumb, used a handkerchief to dab one's nose and brush one's collar, and at all times resisted sneezing.
A large consignment of tobacco commandeered by English ships at Vigo Bay was sold on the London market in 1703, increasing its popularity. Snuff boxes became essential accessories for the man about town and provided lucrative business for manufacturers. By 1750 snuff boxes were mass produced in brass.
Snuff boxes needed to be light and comfortable if they were to be carried in one's pocket. Coffin-shaped snuff boxes reminded snuff-takers that life's pleasures would pass. This one reinforces the message with an engraved hourglass on the lid. They were sufficiently popular to be noticed by Charles Dickens. "'You'll make your fortune, Mr. Sowerberry,' said the beadle, as he thrust his thumb and forefinger into the proffered snuff-box of the undertaker: which was an ingenious little model of a patent coffin." (Oliver Twist, 1839)
Brass, cast and mounted with glass
Birmingham, England; 1846
Designed by A.W.N. Pugin (1812-52); made by Hardman & Co.
This magnificent six-light candelabrum was part of a series designed by AWN Pugin in 1846. A fine example of the Gothic Revival style, which Pugin championed, it may have been designed to go in the rebuilt Houses of Parliament. It was made by Pugin's preferred manufacturer, the Birmingham firm of John Hardman and Co. This was one of the Museum's early purchases, bought from the Great Exhibition in 1851 where Pugin designed the Medieval Court. The Museum paid £7 for it and catalogued it as 'English, modern'.
Chafing Dish and Stand, raised copper with cast brass fittings
Chafing Dish And Stand
Raised copper, with cast brass fittings, electroplated inside
London, England, about 1895
Marked 'BENSON' for designer W.A.S. Benson (1854-1924), made in his workshop
This chafing dish, supported on a stand over a burner, kept food warm. W.A.S. Benson's strikingly original and simple designs exploited the combination of copper and brass. Copper is easily worked and retains its strength. It also conducts heat. Brass handles allow this dish to be carried without risk of burnt fingers.
Benson was also an amateur engineer. He combined an Arts and Crafts passion for the handmade with the use of modern machinery. William Morris called him 'Mr Brass Benson' for his prolific use of the metal.
Bath taps and design, copper
Bath Taps and Design
Copper, silver and white metal (possibly Britannia metal)
London, England, about 1900
Designed by Nelson Dawson (1859-1942); made in his workshop
A feature of the metalware collection is that much of it was designed primarily for use rather than just for display. These bath taps, were made for William Frederick Danvers Smith (1868-1928), 2nd Viscount Hambleden, who was a senior partner in WH Smith and Sons. They were installed in his house, Greenlands, near Henley-on-Thames (now a management training college).
In Nelson Dawson, Smith chose one of England's most important Arts and Crafts designers. Dawson adopted a European approach of combining metals. His drawing for these taps, dated May 1900, is also in the V&A.
The design, incorporating blue enamels and silver, was more ambitious than the end product.
Maria Jauhianen, 'Lehti'
Sheet brass, photo-etched and powder-coated
London, England, 2004
Maria Jauhianen (b. 1971)
Winner of the Applied Metal Design Category of the Oxo Peugeot Design Awards, 2003
Brass remains primarily a functional metal. However, a few contemporary designers are using brass and decorating it with bright and exciting finishes.
With Lehti ('Leaf') the Finnish metalworker Maria Jauhianen confounds normal expectations of metal to create a delicate, seemingly weightless fruit bowl. She photo-etched her drawings of a decomposing leaf onto a thin metal sheet and dissolved the remaining areas with acid. Red powder-coating has given the bowl great strength and flexibility.
Pewter is an alloy or mixture of metals consisting primarily of tin. Adding metals such as copper and antimony makes pewter harder and more durable. The best alloys contain over 90% tin. Before 1800 lead was allowed in 'lay metal', a lower-quality alloy used for measures and boxes. Soft lead made casting easier, but was poisonous, so it was forbidden in 'flatware' such as plates, dishes and porringers. Tests do reveal small amounts of up to 2%. Modern pewter contains no lead.
Pewter's low melting point makes it suitable for casting, though early casting moulds were expensive. Elaborate French and German buffet dishes of the 1580s show mould-making and casting at its most skilled. Pewter's softness makes it ideal for engraving.
From 1300 to 1800, pewter was as familiar as china is today. The Cornish tin mines were the largest in Europe. British pewter peaked between 1650 and 1700. It declined as ceramics, brass and silver plate grew more popular. The Arts and Crafts movement revived pewter around 1900, using traditional manufacturing techniques.
Pewter was part of everyday life until the 19th century. Eating, drinking, celebrating, lighting rooms and taking communion all required long-lasting, affordable objects.
Much of the V&A collection shows signs of having been well used in the places which touched most people's lives: home, tavern and church. Elaborate display pieces commemorating royal events survive in better condition, as do the magnificent cups and flagons used in guild ceremonies. The collection's diversity allows us to trace the history of pewter styles from 1500 to the present day.
The Museum bought European pewter as early as the 1850s. An interest in English pewter grew after 1900 and increased with the foundation of the Pewter Society in 1918. Large bequests from Colonel Croft Lyons in 1926 and Alfred Yeates in 1945 added over 700 metalwork objects to the collection. Croft Lyons was an avid collector. Many of his personal labels recording where and when he bought items are still stuck to the objects.
Pewter quality control
In England the Worshipful Company of Pewterers was established in 1478 to take control of the expanding pewter trade. On completing an apprenticeship, pewterers were required to register a 'touchmark' to be stamped on their wares, which had to meet set standards of quality. Inspectors or 'searchers' from the Company travelled around England visiting workshops and testing items. Substandard wares, often containing too much lead, incurred fines and were liable to destruction.
This cast pewter plate was made in London, England and dated 1751. It bears the maker's touch of Samuel Jefferys (active from 1735) and is stamped 'Holborn London', 'SUPERFINE HARD METAL and 'Owner's crowned initials 'HIE'.
Of all the marks on this dish, only the maker's touch of Samuel Jefferys carried official weight. The Worshipful Company of Pewterers allowed Jefferys to register his mark in 1735, recognising that he had completed his apprenticeship and was free to trade. The 'SUPERFINE HARD METAL' mark was a convention Jefferys adopted to advertise the quality of his wares.
This cast pewter welcome cup is inlaid with brass. Made in Lübeck, Germany, and dated 1717, it is inscribed in German 'This is the Welcome [cup] of all Honorable pewter founder journeymen Anno June 24, 1717.' and 'Drink and be Merry is all well and good, but remember that we are all united.' Welcome cups were displayed on buffets at civic dinners. This cup was made for the Pewterers' Journeymen's Guild of Lübeck. After their apprenticeships, German pewterers had to embark on a further seven to nine years as journeymen, before they could become masters. They travelled abroad to enhance their skills and acquire new designs. Journeymen's guilds looked after their interests and regulated their behaviour.
Salt Cellar, cast pewter
England, about 1320
Inscribed in Latin 'Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee' and with the arms of France and England in use until 1340
This salt dates from about 1320 and is cast in relief with scenes of the Annunciation (the Angel Gabriel announcing to the Mary that she will give birth to Jesus) and the Latin inscription 'Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee'. The salt can be dated on the basis of the two shields of arms which represent the royal arms of France 'ancient' and the arms of England 'ancient' which were in use until 1340 when Edward III claimed the French throne and quartered the arms of France with those of England.
Salt cellars in silver or pewter were important vessels on the medieval dining table. Enough lids from such pieces survive to suggest that by 1400 they were part of the pewterer's stock in trade.
Salt was an expensive preservative and condiment and was used much more than it is today; it was not inappropriate therefore that a vessel containing salt should be elaborately decorated and inscribed. The religious nature of the inscriptions and scenes meant that for many years, the present example was thought to be a pyx (a container for the wafers used in celebrating the Mass). However, two very similar objects, in Paris and Berlin, found with the inscription 'when you are at table think first of the poor', indicate that it originally had a domestic function.
Flagon. cast pewter, England or France
England or France; 1350-1400
Inscribed 'P:FILLE:H:F DE:MAILEI' on handle (owner's name?)
In 1348 the Mayor of London approved regulations to control the rapidly expanding pewter trade. Apprenticeships were formalised and goods had to meet prescribed standards. This faceted wine flagon may be an example of what is referred to in these ordinances as 'square' flagons and later as 'Normandy pottes'. The form, if not the object itself, probably originated in France.
Cruet, cast pewter
England, about 1400
Inscribed 'THOMAS HUNTE: HONORIFICABILIUT' on body (a medieval tongue-twister)
Countess of Loudoun gift
Until about 1400 churches provided the principal market for pewter. Cruets, usually in pairs, held wine and water for use during the Mass. This cruet was found in a well cavity at Ashby de la Zouche Castle in Leicestershire. It must pre-date the filling of the well during the building of the Great Tower in 1476.
The inscriptions on the vessel, are presumably an owner's name together with an abbreviated version of the well-known medieval tongue-twister HONORIFICABILITUDINITATIBUS, the longest word known to medieval Latin scholars from the ninth century onwards. The best-known example of the use of this word is in Love's Labour's Lost, Act V, scene 1, in which Costard the clown exclaims: 'O they have lived long on the alms-basket of words. I marvel thy master hath not eaten thee for a word; for thou art not so long by the head as honorificabilitudinitatibus; thou art easier swallow'd than a flap-dragon'.
Dish, cast pewter
Owner's mark a crowned feather
The plate bears the crown and feather motif of the heir apparent to the English throne. It may have been part of the household pewter of Prince Arthur, Henry VIII's older brother who died in 1502. It was one of 20 similar dishes dating from about 1500 found during building work at Guy's Hospital in 1899, near the site of Arthur's palace at Kennington.
Baluster Measure, cast pewter
Maker's touch 'F' between two stags (unidentified), house mark of a bishop with mitre and 'NE', verification mark 'HR' below a crown
Measures are among the most commonly surviving pewter vessels. They were used in taverns to carry set quantities of wine and ale from barrels to the table.
This baluster measure was dug up in Parliament Street, Westminster, in 1903. Its ball and wedge thumb-piece and narrow 'waisted' profile suggest a 16th-century date. The 'bishop and mitre' ownership marks struck repeatedly on the lid and body may refer to the name of a tavern such as the Mitre or Bishop's Head.
Baluster measures were usually made from low-quality pewter with a higher lead content.Their distinctive shape probably comes from earlier examples made of pottery and leather. Measures varied in style and capacity according to local regulations. The crowned 'HR' mark shows that this measure passed inspection by a local authority.
Dish, cast pewter
Nuremberg, Germany, 1569 engraved in mould
Signed in the mould 'BI' (unidentified); made by Albrecht Preissensin (active 1564-98)
Owner's initials 'FS' on back and arms of Nuremberg
Nuremberg was a great centre of the finest pewter. The master-pewterer Albrecht Preissensin cast this dish in an etched (rather than engraved) mould creating a low-relief woodcut effect. The design depicts the Judgement of Paris after an engraving by Hans Brosamer and the Virtues after engravings by Virgil Solis, both well-known 16th-century printmakers.
Candlestick, cast pewter
Stockholm, Sweden; about 1663-70
Maker's touch of Vieth Fijtsson (active 1637-84)
This distinctive twisted candlestick is made of three sections which were cast in moulds. Inside the stem a vertical seam shows it was cast in two halves and soldered together. Between 1663 and 1670 Vieth Fijtsson, the maker of this piece, produced 24 pairs of candlesticks cast in the same moulds as this for the Swedish court of Queen Hedvig Eleonora.
Pewter, cast and engraved
Magdeburg, Germany; dated October 1763
Made by Ernst Jakob Kopcke (master pewterer from 1758)
This beaker cover is one of a small group of vessels which were engraved by Frederick Baron Trenck whilst imprisoned in Fort Etoile, Magdeburg. An account of these beakers was given by Trenck in his autobiography The Life and Surprising Adventures of Frederick Baron Trenck: 'The daylight I enjoyed induced me to amuse myself by engraving satires, and little drawings with the point of my nail, on the tin cup out of which I drank: and I soon brought this art to so much perfection that my first attempt, though imperfect, was carried to the city. The commandant ordered another such cup to be given me; and in this, I succeeded better than the first; in short, the different majors under whose care I was, requested each a sample of my productions.'
One of the scenes on the museum's beaker, showing the baron sitting in a chair chained to the wall with a chain and collar weighing '68 lbs.' (30.84 kg), refers to an incident when Fort Etoile was under the command of General Borch. 'This cruel man came immediately to my prison, but like a hangman about to take charge of his victim. He was accompanied by locksmiths, carrying a weighty collar, which they put round my neck and a strong chain that was joined to that I had already at my feet; and to these were added two additional ones, so that I was really chained like a savage beast'.
The entire surface of the beaker and cover is engraved with scenes and inscriptions principally in German but also in French. The top of the cover is engraved with a series of scenes, some taken from Aesop's fables with captions written in minute script below each scene in German. The central knob is engraved with a hunting dog on a leash. The inside of the cover is engraved in the centre with a circular panel with scrolling foliage containing four coats of arms with a figure of cupid in the centre and the motto amitie nous unis - 'love unites us' at the top.
The beaker can be dated exactly by the engraving 'Friedrich Baron von der Trenck, member of the King's Carabineers, Rittmeister of O'Donells' Regiment and Consul to the Great Porte in Hungary, in the tenth year of his imprisonment he engraved this beaker with a bent nail finished in Magdeburg in October 1763.'
Frederick Baron Trenck was one of the most distinguished soldiers of fortune of the eighteenth century. Born in 1726 at Konigsberg, he had a distinguished academic career at the university and was presented to Frederick of Prussia as one of the university's top scholars. He also established a reputation as a duellist. After university, he joined the life-guards, an elite regiment of the Prussian cavalry. He did not however neglect his intellectual studies and counted Voltaire among his friends. He was appointed an orderly officer on Frederick the Great's own staff.
His downfall followed an ill-advised love affair with the king's sister Princess Amalie. The king had him arrested in 1743 as a spy and confined him in the fortress of Glatz from which he escaped in 1746. After serving in the Russian service, he returned to Prussia in 1754 and was confined in the fortress at Magdeburg for nine years, five months and 'some days'. In his own words, 'when I lay in the Bastille of Magdeburg, the mighty Frederick the Great said: "Whilst my name is Frederick, Trenck shall never see day"'. He made several attempts to escape and was chained to the wall, incidents which are recorded on the museum's beaker.
At the end of the Seven Years War, Maria Theresa secured Trenck's release. In 1780 he bought an estate at Zwerbach there wrote his celebrated autobiography. He travelled extensively in Europe visiting France and England in 1774-7 and in 1788 went to Paris. He had been exhibited as a wax-work complete with chains at the Palais Royal and had two plays written about him. He was lionised by Paris society: 'wherever I dined or supped all the friends and relatives of the family were invited that they might have a sight of me; and after meals the company immediately crowded round me with the same view'. He was also presented at the Court at Versailles. He then retired to his estates to write, returning to Paris in 1791. He lived safely throughout the Terror but was finally denounced as an Austrian spy and was sent to the guillotine on July 25th 1794.
Mug, cast pewter
England, dated 1703
Maker's touch '16--' (unidentified)
Inscribed 'John Walltrope Att the Bell Att Turvey 1703'
Mugs were often stolen from taverns, so many innkeepers inscribed ownership marks on them. Some even bore the inscription 'If Sold Stole'! This one is inscribed on behalf of the Bedfordshire innkeeper John Walthorp. Surviving tankards with the fashionable swirling decoration of about 1700 are rare.
Biscuit Box, cast pewter
Birmingham, England; about 1903
Designed by Archibald Knox (1864-1933); made by W.H. Haseler
Marked 'ENGLISH PEWTER, O194, MADE IN ENGLAND'
Archibald Knox was one of the most important designers working for Liberty & Co. He was born on the Isle of Man and his Celtic background strongly influenced his work. This box is decorated with square stylised leaves and flowers. Liberty's marketed this successful design for over 20 years as part of their 'Tudric' range of pewter.
Candlestick, cast pewter
England; dated 1616, but possibly about 1920
Cast with the arms of the Worshipful Company of Pewterers 'ANO D 1616' and 'WILLIAM GRANGR'
This candlestick has aroused much debate since it first appeared on the market in 1922. The column of the candlestick is cast in relief with formalised plants and flowers; the base is cast with strapwork rectangles and roundels incorporating flowers, plants, the arms of the Pewterers' Company of London, the date ANO D 1616 and the name WILLIAM GRANGR.
Differences in the cast work on the stem and base suggest it might be two candlesticks put together, if not an outright fake. While the shape has precedents in earlier brass, no similar pewter candlesticks are known.
Who was William Granger? A document from 1639, discovered in 1982, was found to be signed by William 'Granger', using the same spelling as that used on the candlestick - GRANGR - suggesting a connection between the two. William Grainger is recorded as an official in the Worshipful Company of Pewterers by 1610, acting as Steward by 1620. In 1638, he became upper warden of the Company. Is this connection too good to be true?
The significance of the date, 1616, which appears on a series of English pewter wares, has never been satisfactorily explained. Dated English pewter often commemorates an important royal event such as the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 and his marriage to Catherine of Braganza in 1662. In 1616 Charles I was created Earl of Chester and Prince of Wales, after the death of his brother Henry. However, such souvenirs usually survive in greater numbers. This candlestick is unique.
Recent examinations of the candlestick take us no closer to verifying its authenticity. X-Ray analysis showed no discrepancy between the alloys used on stem and base but they gave no indication as to age. Some pewter specialists argue that the decoration has the telltale signature of the Arts & Crafts.
London, England, 1998
Designed and made by Toby Russell (b. 1963)
Commissioned by the V&A in 1998
Modern metalworkers produce highly sophisticated designs in pewter. Promoted by the Worshipful Company of Pewterers and leading colleges of art and design, pewter has undergone a revival as both a useful and beautiful modern metal. Annual awards such as 'Pewter Live' nurture the next generation of pewterers and introduce contemporary designs into the industry.
To make this vase, the London silversmith and pewterer Toby Russell scored, folded and soldered a sheet of pewter. He wanted to create a sense of movement on the highly reflective surface. He said that he 'distorted the environment around the piece by means of the form alone without need for superfluous detail or ornamentation'.
Cutlers specialised in making blades. They trained as apprentices for up to seven years, working for a freemen cutlers who housed and fed them. In England, a cutler would have to prove himself as bladesmith and hafter (maker of handles) in order to obtain the freedom of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers, gain his own mark and set up his own business.
Many cutlers acted as middlemen who bought blades from bladesmiths, handles from hafters and sheaths from sheathers. They assembled the cutlery themselves and sold them under their own names.
Surviving inventories, cutlers' marks, tradecards and bills reveal that cutlers did not only make table cutlery. Among their other creations were pocket and pen knives, scriveners' knives, hunting knives, scissors, razors, nutcrackers, swords and even surgeons' instruments.
Ebony, ivory, fish skin, tortoiseshell, amber, bone, horn and shell were popular for decorating cutlery. Around 1730 ceramic handles were introduced to Europe from China. Although cutlers were required by their guilds to be able to make a complete knife, handles of carved ivory, silver, bronze and glass were usually imported or made by specialist craftsmen.
Presentoir, carving knife and fork
Presentoir, Carving Knife and Fork
Handles of ivory and piqué work, silver, red and green painted enamel, steel blades, etched and part gilded
Germany, dated 1682
Inscribed in German and Latin 'Pray and work' (présentoir) and in Latin '17 October 1682' (knife and fork)
A 'présentoir' or serving knife served carved meat to diners. The blade of this one is decorated with an etched design. The design was painted in an acid-resistant material before the object was dipped into an acid bath. The acid ate into the exposed metal leaving the design in relief. The handles are decorated with piqué work: thin strips of silver inlaid into ivory. Coloured enamels and lacquers add depth to the flower patterns.
Folding Spoon, steel and silver
Steel and silver, partly gilded
Carlsbad, Bohemia (now Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic), 1680-1720
Owner's mark 'AS'
This spoon was part of a travelling set with a knife and fork. The handle is hinged to allow it to be folded and stored. The handle has a design in gold on the surface. Gold leaf was heated, rubbed and hammered on and then burnished. Carlsbad was a spa town famous for its souvenirs.
Knife and Fork, handles of horn
Knife and Fork
Handles of horn, mother-of-pearl and engraved brass, steel blades
Germany or Hungary, 1600-1700
Mark a 'V' over three lozenges (unidentified)
Mother-of-pearl was an ideal material for making handles. Its diverse colours shimmered, it was cheaper than ivory and it lasted longer as it did not dry and split. The knife and fork may be 'Habaner work', a term used for folk art made by refugees from the Austrian province of Tyrol who settled in Hungary during the religious wars of the 16th century.
Knife, handle of porcelain (soft-paste)
Handle of porcelain (soft-paste), painted enamel decoration and silver, steel blade
London, England, about 1756 (blade about 1850)
Handle made in the Bow factory, blade marked 'STAMMERS 99 STRAND LONDON'
Porcelain from China was so popular that European factories tried to imitate it. They could not immediately replicate the recipe for true Chinese porcelain (hard-paste), but devised substitutes known as 'soft-pastes'. Soft-paste factories at Bow and Chelsea produced ceramic knife handles in various patterns and styles from about 1750.
Serving Knife, handle of engraved ivory
Handle of engraved ivory, green stained horn, bone and brass; steel blade, engraved and partly gilded
Italy, 1500-50 (handle possibly later)
Inscribed in Latin 'The blessing of the table. May the three-in-one bless that which we are about to eat' and 'The saying of grace. We give thanks to you God for your generosity'
Knives with musical notes on the blades are known as notation knives. This one is etched with the first tenor's part of the blessing of the meal (to be sung before) and the giving of thanks after.
Knife and Fork, handles of ivory
Knife and Fork
Handles of ivory, silver piqué work and red and green painted enamel; steel blades
London, England, dated 1698
Mark of Ephraim How (died 1720)
Inscribed 'Richard Rider December ye 9th 1698'
Ephraim How and his son John ran a successful and productive cutlery factory. They standardised their designs, employed a large workforce and harnessed local water power. They sold from their shop on Saffron Hill near Clerkenwell in London. Ephraim How became master of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers in 1706.
Knife, handle of iron
Handle of iron, carved jet and gold wire, steel blade
Mark of John Jencks (active from about 1606-20) or Joseph Jencks (active from about 1622)
Cutlers' marks were not exclusive and could be passed on. The thistle on this knife belonged to John Jencks from 1606 until about 1620 when he died. It then became the mark of Joseph Jencks (possibly his son) about 1622. In 1656 it was the mark of John Arnold and in 1664 it was passed to George Arnold, possibly the son of John.
Steel, ebony, ivory and amber
During the 16th century, knives and saws had a variety of uses. Hunting sets, for example, might contain a carving knife, a flesh knife and a saw such as this for cutting bone. Surgical sets also contained saws in this form, used for amputations.
Scrivener’s Knife, handle of agate and silver
Handle of agate and silver, steel blade
North-west Europe, 1650-1700
A scrivener was a professional penman or scribe who transcribed court records and copied documents. Scriveners used knives such as this to cut and shape goose feathers into writing quills. Most knives had a spike on the end of the handle for splitting the nib. The word penknife comes from this use.
Nutcrackers, steel and brass
Steel and brass
Possibly Germany, 1700-1800
The crushers are in the form of an animal's head. According to German folklore, nutcrackers were good luck charms, representing power and strength. They served as watchdogs to guard your home and family from evil spirits and danger. The nutcracker snarled at the evil spirits and brought good luck and good will.