Metalworks! - Episode One: The Golden Age of Silver
First broadcast: BBC Four, May 2012
The first film in the series traces the fortunes of silver in the 18th and 19th centuries, revisiting the designers and craftsmen that made British silver internationally renowned, and considering its role as the ultimate status symbol. It shows how silver, as a commodity directly linked to currency, was a forceful expression of power and wealth – as well as a recoverable asset that could be melted down during hard times.
Focussing on the elaborate rituals of the 18th- and 19th- century dinner table, the film explores how dining habits and tableware proclaimed the elegance and discernment of hosts, including the 2nd Earl of Warrington and the Prince Regent, to provide crucial indicators of class, wealth and taste.
The programme also celebrates the virtuosic craftsmen that transformed silver into an art form, as French Calvinist Protestants, known as Huguenots, sought refuge in England from religious persecution, bringing with them new techniques, skills and styles. In the 19th century, new industrial techniques, like electroplating, increased the availability of silver, making it more accessible to the middle classes. The film shows how these new markets, alongside changes in dining habits, resulted in new types of objects, but also contributed to silver’s decline as a material for everyday use.
Presented by Dan Cruickshank, the programme also features contributors James Rothwell, Philippa Glanville, Christopher Hartop and Theresa Nguyen, as well as V&A curators.
Click on a selection of objects featured in the programme to view more details