A larger than life character with a wicked sense of humour, he is without doubt a quintessentially British
eccentric. Not infrequently his engraving contains a surprise, which also could be known as the ‘Appleby
factor’. However, Malcolm is far more than an engraver as he works with a range of precious and semi
precious materials and many different techniques producing an eclectic output that he feels sure future
curators will find extremely difficult to categorise.
Born at Beckenham in 1946, Malcolm Appleby decided at school that he wanted to be a designer-artist. He studied
first at the Beckenham and then at the Ravensbourne art schools before proceeding to the Central School of Arts and
Crafts that during his course became the Sir John Cass School of Art. It was while at the Central School that he
began a ‘mock engraving apprenticeship’ with John Wilkes the gun makers, whose proprietor was a family friend.
He was also awarded a travel scholarship from the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. He visited Scotland and found its
natural beauty inspirational. Both these events were to have a profound impact on his future career and life.
During 1966-8 he studied at the Royal College of Art (RCA) where he explored various experimental ideas, including
die cutting, the firing of fine gold on to steel and developing new engraving techniques from experience as a gun
engraver. The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths (the Company) secured its first example of Appleby’s work shortly
after he graduated from the RCA, a carved and engraved steel cigar canister fused with gold and silver inlay. Today,
Malcolm still considers this to be an outstanding piece of the late 1960s. Although there were other commissions at
this time, including a collaboration with Michael Driver for three jugs for the University of Kent (Malcolm undertook
the engraving), there were two more that firmly established Appleby’s reputation.
Louis Osman had been chosen to make the crown for the Investiture of the Prince of Wales on July 1st 1969.
Although of a modern design, its form was based on a Charles II warrant that stipulated that the Prince of Wales’
coronet should comprise an arch surmounted by an orb. Louis Osman chose Malcolm to engrave the orb with the
Prince’s attributes such as the Welsh dragon, the corn stooks of the Duke of Chester and the feathers. Around the
stooks there are what appears to be field mice. In fact they are rats, one of which is reputed to feature Louis
Osman’s face. Malcolm’s engraving always deserves close scrutiny as more than likely there is a surprise.
The Prince’s Investiture was eclipsed later that month with the first men on the moon. Louis Osman was
commissioned to mark the event with gold models of the moon. He decided, as with the Crown, to use
electroforming which builds-up an object by depositing the gold on a resin mould made from a hard model, in this
case steel. Appleby was given four days to complete this Herculean task. Malcolm recalls working on this project in a
studio at his parents’ home when his father called up the stairs in the early hours of the morning that Neil Armstrong
had taken his first step on the moon. Although his first year after graduating from the RCA had been a great success,
Malcolm was becoming tired of the rampant commercialism of London. Upon being offered a friend’s house in
Scotland for a year, he seized the opportunity and has lived north of the border ever since and continues to be
inspired by its natural beauty.
With the proceeds from his early post RCA success Malcolm was able to buy Crathes Station near Banchory, which
had been the victim of Dr Beecham’s axe in the 1960s. However, on the work front he was working on another piece
of engraving for Louis Osman to be included in the Company’s early 1971 Gold Exhibition entirely devoted to
Osman’s work. This was on the surfaces of the 10cm high Prince of Wales gold cup designed by Osman with a square
base and a circular top. Although the Prince of Wales’s crown was exhibited, the cup eclipsed all the other pieces.
Malcolm covered its entire surfaces with a fanciful version of the Prince’s heraldic symbols. At the exhibition, Malcolm
Appleby eclipsed Louis Osman – the star of the show – as he was hailed as a 23-year-old genius and the Illustrated
London News devoted most of the review of the exhibition to Appleby’s single contribution as opposed to Osman’s
Back north of the border, by mid-1971 Malcolm had converted Crathes Station into what was to be his home and
workshop for the next 25 years. A seven-year project of the 1970s was a fantastic chess set for Collingwood of
Conduit Street in which he combined engraving with mixing metals. In 1973 he began experimenting with bowls,
engraving on to a blank flat disc that would be subsequently raised. As well as bowls, beakers have been another
continuing theme of Malcolm’s work of the decades. Oliver Walston, a Cambridgeshire farmer and national journalist
perhaps commissioned the most impressive series of these from the early 1980s. They celebrate various events on
the Walstons’ farm ranging from a bumper crop of sugar beet to the lunacy of setaside.
Malcolm Appleby has received a plethora of important commissions over the years. In 1978 the Company
commissioned a bowl to mark the 500th anniversary of the founding of the London assay Office – Malcolm had it
assayed in Edinburgh, much to the initial fury of the Company. His 1985 seal for the Victoria & Albert Museum’s
Board of Trustees inexplicably includes an image of Malcolm’s then recently deceased cat. Three years later he
designed a condiment set for Downing Street, while in the 1990s he designed a large centrepiece for Bute House,
the official resident of Scotland’s First Minister. Add royalty, the National Museums of Scotland, the Company and the
Royal Armouries Museum for which he engraved the Raven Gun and one can safely say his work is sought.
In 1996 he moved from Crathes Station to a home and workshop he designed in Perthshire. In 2006 there was a
major retrospective of his work at Goldsmiths’ Hall.
Malcolm Appleby and The Pearson Silver Collection: Currently Malcolm’s work is not well presented in the Collection.
When Joseph Pearson telephoned Malcolm in 2005 to commission a couple of caddy spoons explaining that
then his work was only represented by a medal, Malcolm’s response was, ‘Well, it cannot be a very good collection.’
Point taken Malcolm. The issue will be addressed in due course.
He wanted to be a sculptor, though he also trained as a silversmith. However, he regarded himself as an
industrial designer because this financially supported his love of both silversmithing and sculpture. Although
he did not become a silversmith until quite late in life, he nevertheless can be regarded as a master
of this craft.
Born in Sheffield in 1930, Brian Asquith enrolled as a junior at the Sheffield College of Arts and Crafts in 1942. Four
years later he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art (RCA) to study sculpture under Professor Frank Dobson.
However, he also studied silversmithing under Professor Robert Goodden, which explains why his time at the RCA
was longer than usual. He graduated in 1951, the year of the Festival of Britain, but before he could start his career,
he had to undertake his National Service.
This ended in 1953 and he returned to his native Sheffield. His early career did not embrace silver. He did practice
as a sculptor and completed a monumental sculpture for a new church at South Ruislip. He also taught part-time at
Barnsley College of Art. However, his main activity of this period was industrial design. By 1955 he was sharing an
office and studio with David Mellor, also a native of Sheffield, who started studying at the RCA during Brian’s last
year. Brian’s design work was diverse and included everything from oil and gas central heating boilers to tyre treads.
In 1963 he moved from Sheffield and established his design business at Youlgreave in the Derbyshire Peak District
National Park. His three sons eventually joined the family firm.
Having firmly established his business at Youlgreave, Brian turned his attention to making individual metal objects.
This not only gave him a direct link to his training as a sculptor, but gave him the opportunity for design ideas using
the abstract form. In 1966 he received his first major silver commission. This was to design a centrepiece for the
British government to present to Mauritius when it received independence in March 1968. Although he was in the
second half of his 30s when he became a silversmith, this late entry did not prove to be an obstacle. Indeed, about
the same time he received the Mauritius commission, the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths (the Company)
commissioned him to make a three-piece tea service. By the late 1960s he was producing a range of heavy gauge
domestic silver with a sculptural texture.
Initially he found that the demand in both the UK and overseas was for traditional British silver. However, he
persevered and the commissions did begin to flow into his Youlgreave studio from universities, local authorities,
Downing Street, churches and cathedrals, the Company and of course private patrons, including making gifts for
presentation to members of the Royal Family.
By the late 1970s he was experimenting combining acrylic and silver. He certainly produced some items for the
Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 that featured red, white and blue acrylic. However, by the 1980s he had moved away
from the use of acrylic as a ‘novelty’ to including it in his main work. Indeed, when Sir Francis Tombs (later Lord Tombs of Bailey)
was appointed to the Court of Assistants at the Company, in keeping with tradition he was invited to commission a
wine cup for his personal use at Goldsmiths’ Hall. Sir Francis was then Chairman of Rolls Royce, so in choosing Brian
he was selecting a ‘local’ silversmith. The resultant goblet has a laminated acrylic stem of hexagonal cross section.
The four ‘angled’ sides are each panelled with silver, while the two opposite sides are open. The acrylic is clear, but
there is a thin vertical sheet of royal blue acrylic at its centre. The effect is visually stunning for it appears at certain
angles as if the stem is made of silver and lapis lazuli. However, when rotated, the ‘lapis’ vanishes to a thin line. This
piece was the first acrylic/silver wine cup for a member of the Court of Assistants and it remains so to this day.
During the 1990s, Brian worked with Alessi to produce a range of tableware based on Christopher Dresser’s drawings.
In 1997 the Company quite rightly selected him to feature in its exhibition British Master Goldsmiths at Goldsmith’s
Hall. In 2004 there was a major retrospective of his work – Brian Asquith Sculpted by Design – at Sheffield’s
Millennium Galleries. This talented industrial designer, silversmith and sculptor died in 2008.
Brain Asquith and The Pearson Silver Collection: Brian Asquith’s output of stock items was not particularly high,
so although the Collection only contains five pieces it is a reasonable representation of his work. The spread is quite
literally from his earliest work to his last. The highlight is undoubtedly the 1968 three-piece tea service that is exactly
the same as the one commissioned by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. Of fluid form, this was one of
Brian’s favourite pieces. Having secured it from a country house sale in October 1999, our Curator remembers
speaking to Brian who said that whenever he saw the piece at the Hall, ‘it brought a lump to my throat’. Only the two
services were made. The set of six acrylic goblets of 2000 were acquired from Brian after Rolls Royce cancelled its
order of 20. These were the last pieces he made before his retirement.
His output of small light gauge material in the mid to late 1950s was relatively prolific. However, by
1960 he had moved away from silversmithing and eventually went into education.
Born in 1922, Geoffrey Guy Bellamy was a bomber hero of World War II before he started his studies. In 1940 he
joined the Royal Air Force and flew Lancasters in 405 Squadron before moving to the Pathfinder Force. He flew an incredible
112 missions and was awarded with the Distinguished Flying Cross and bar. He served until the end of the
From 1946-50 he studied at the Birmingham College of Art and from 1950-3 at the Royal College of Art (RCA) under
Professor Robert Goodden. Upon graduating he established a basement workshop in a fashionable part Chelsea. Like
many of his contemporaries, the Scandinavian movement influenced him. His output comprised small items such as
ashtrays, beakers, bowls, candleholders, cocktail stirrers and dishes. Some of his dishes were engraved with typical
1950s-style engraving. All of his pieces, in addition to bearing his maker’s mark, also bear either his facsimile signature
(preceded by DES for ‘designed’), or are stamped C G Bellamy in a circle and occasionally with both. Certain
pieces also bear a retailer’s stamp. His work certainly had a wide distribution in the UK and also the Channel Islands.
One of the retailers was George Tarratt of Leicester. When Jensen turned down this county jeweller’s request to become
a stockist of its silver jewellery range, it asked Geoffrey Bellamy if he would design one for them instead. This
he duly did and Francis & Deacon of Birmingham made the items. Tarratt used Geoffrey Bellamy as a jewellery designer
until the mid-1960s. An element of this design agreement was that Tarratt supported Geoffrey’s workshop financially,
though this arrangement appears to have come to an end by 1960 and the workshop appears to have
In 1961 Geoffrey had won a design Centre Award for his Monte Carlo stainless steel cutlery that he had designed for
George Wolstenholme & Son Limited of Sheffield. He later became the company’s Director of design and Production
before joining the Council of Industrial Design in 1964, but later moved into teaching.
Geoffrey Bellamy and The Pearson Silver Collection: The Collection contains a small but reasonably representative
cross section of Geoffrey Bellamy’s work.
He was a multi-talented designer, however, it is for his silver that he will be remembered for posterity.
He discovered texturing by accident, he revived the virtually extinct craft of enamelling so as to add
more colour to his work and his output was prolific. Indeed as Grant Macdonald, then Prime Warden of
the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths (the Company) said in the Eulogy at his Memorial Service, ‘Gerald
never did a job well – it had to be excellent.’
Born at Hull in 1930, Adrian Gerald Sallis Benney started his artistic training at Brighton College of Art in 1946 where
his father was Principal. Dunstan Pruden, who was a member of the semi-religious Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic
at Ditchling on the South Downs, taught him silversmithing while he studied at Brighton. Pruden also gave the young
Benney hands-on experience at the Guild. Following military service from 1948 to 1950, Benney proceeded to the
Royal College of Art (RCA) where he studied silversmithing under Professor Robert Goodden.
There is no doubting that the Benney had an aptitude for silversmithing. Indeed, in 1952 his four-piece tea service
and tray won him the Prince of Wales Scholarship. During his last term at the RCA he purchased a plating business
just off the Tottenham Court Road, part of which he proposed to turn into a silver workshop. To help finance this
enterprise, he persuaded its owner to stay on for three years to run the plating business. As well as
designing and making silver, the young Benney also successfully designed a range of products from clocks to prams.
He was also a partner in a fibreglass business, making among other things casings for John Bloom’s washing
However, it was with silver that Gerald Benney became and will remain famous. While his work at Brighton initially
embraced Pruden’s arts and crafts style it progressed to pre-war modernism. However, from his RCA days, like so
many of his contemporaries, he was greatly influenced by the Scandinavian movement. During the 1950s he
developed a range of minimalist domestic silver with clean simple lines. However, one early success was dashed.
Arthur Liberty of Liberty’s was so impressed with a condiment set that he ordered half a dozen for the store.
Unfortunately, the buyer was not as taken with them as his employer and turned down the order. ‘I can still
remember the man’s name’, Gerald would growl decades later. He also started to receive numerous commissions
from both private patrons and institutions during the 1950s. However, it was an industrial appointment in 1957
that laid the foundations for his financial success. In 1957 he was appointed consultant designer to Viners on a good
salary. Additionally he negotiated a royalty of 1.5 per cent on sales of his designs. His stainless steel Chelsea, Studio,
Design 70 and Sable cutlery sold in such enormous quantities during the 1960s that in good years his remuneration
exceeded that of Viner’s chairman. He held the position until 1969.
However, the beginning of the 1960s was the turning point for Benney’s silver business. In 1961, while raising the
bowl of a goblet, he accidentally took a hammer from the rack with a damaged head. After a few blows with the
hammer what should have been a smooth surface had a series of patterns imposed on the bowl. While many
silversmiths would have cursed such an error, Gerald found the result pleasing and experimented further. The rest is
history: he ‘invented’ silver with a textured surface, or ‘Benney Bark Finish’ as it became known in the trade. While
textured silver was regarded at first as a novelty, it certainly appealed to the public. It boosted sales and although
others copied it mercilessly, it remained an integral part of Benney’s repertoire and indeed, it remains so to this day.
In addition to the discovery of texturing, 1961 was important for Gerald for another reason. Coventry Cathedral
approached him for what at the time was regarded as the largest ecclesiastical commission of the century. Up until
that date, the Benney workshop comprised Gerald and Ted Ford, who had trained at C J Vander. Gerald realised that
he required a flat worker to make the large bread plates the cathedral required, so he recruited Christopher
Lawrence, an excellent hammer man with an expertise at flat work. The workshop was now expanding and
Christopher Lawrence started to build a team for the work that was coming its way. This included Reading
Corporation’s remarkable commission for a complete service of contemporary civil plate. The Corporation made the
initial commissions, while local businesses and other organisations were encouraged to make subsequent ones. From
1962 through to 1989 Gerald designed a total of 176 pieces with a view to creating an aura of splendour without
ostentation. It remains the nation’s only civic plate to be designed by just one silversmith.
The Pearson Silver Collection has one of the largest groups of Benney boxes in existence. Although Gerald had been
making boxes since the 1950s, those that he made since the mid-1960s added a new dimension to box making. As
one would expect, they are superbly crafted with excellent hinges and the trademark Benney Bark Effect sides.
However, it is their covers that lifts his genre to a new plain. Initially the simple ‘strip’ patterns were tapped in with a
chasing hammer, the lines cleverly arranged for the eye to enjoy a continuous visual rhythm, sometimes creating an
optical allusion ridged pattern. Then there were intended optical allusion patterns where the surface may appear to
comprise of three-dimensional pyramids, but in fact the surface is entirely flat. Colour was introduced in the form of
gold. The easy option would be to gild certain areas of the silver, but Gerald chose a far more difficult route –
soldering 18 carat gold panels, or indeed small spheres or edges, as an integral part of the box’s silver surface.
As gold and silver melt at different temperatures, this is no mean achievement.
Noticing that in the late 1960s there was a reviving interest in objets d’art and also feeling that his work should have
further colour, he decided that enamelling should feature as an integral part of his oeuvre. Enamelling is a century
old art form where powdered glass is fused to a metal surface in a kiln. It was popular in the 18th century and then
fell out of fashion to be revived by Fabergé in the last 20 years of the 19th century. Peter Carl Fabergé added a wide
range of colours and managed to enamel larger surfaces than had ever been achieved. However, after World War I
demand for enamel, which has always been an expensive form of decoration, fell as the number of wealthy
individuals dwindled. The art of enamelling mainly survived with a handful of craftsmen working in the field of
jewellery. However, Burch Korrodi of Zurich continued working as the last firm of fine enamellers until the 1950s.
Gerald travelled to Zurich to search for any of Korrodi’s employees. Quite literally he stumbled upon the company’s
head enameller, Berger Bergensen who had worked before moving to Zurich for the House of Bolin, one of Fabergé’s
rivals that had fled to Stockholm after the Russian Revolution. Bergensen was persuaded to come to the UK to teach
Benney’s team everything he knew regarding the art of enamelling. Subsequently the resurrection of a craft that was
nearing extinction began. It was not long before Gerald why it nearly became a lost art, as enamel is one of the most
unpredictable materials known to man and one has to learn from experience how to manage it. Innumerable
experiments were conducted in the Benney studio and the persistence paid off. By 1971 translucent enamels had
been perfected by the team in red, blue and green.
Enamelling certainly added a new dimension to Benney’s silver. Items including goblets, beakers, tea and coffee
services with enamel lids, paperknives, table lighters and of course box covers became part of his stock. Over time
the Benney palette expanded considerably adding the notoriously difficult strawberry red and the unusual golden
bronze, as well as many more. In addition to an updated traditional approach to enamel box covers, namely a single
translucent coloured enamel over a textured as opposed to a guilloché surface within a thin frame of white enamel,
contemporary designs were also added. Although Benney’s palette did and does not rival Fabergé’s, his studio
managed to enamel even larger surfaces than the House of Fabergé ever achieved. Most of Benney’s enamel pieces
carry the enameller’s as well as his maker’s mark.
The 1960s were booming years for Benney’s workshop. During the decade his work appeared at 32 major exhibitions
throughout the world. In 1964 he moved his family home from a Mayfair townhouse to Beenham House, a 52-room
mansion near Reading. During 1969 he had his first one-man show. This was staged at the Rutland Gallery that was
opened by the late HRH Princess Margaret accompanied by her then husband Lord Snowdon. At the end of the
decade when the property in which his workshop was located was acquired by a developer, one of patrons came to
the rescue. Alistair McAlpine of the building company bearing his family name and Gerald with his now team of 25
moved to Falcon Wharf Bankside.
The 1970s also started well. In 1973 his workshop moved to Bear Lane, Southwark and a major retrospective of his
work was staged at Goldsmiths’ Hall. Prime Minister Edward Heath’s letter praising Benney’s skill and imagination as
well his good wishes for the event, appeared on the front cover of the catalogue. The exhibition culminated in the
Benney silver and enamel lent by the Elizabeth II and Prince Philip that had been commissioned by members of the
royal family for the occasion of the couple’s Silver Wedding Anniversary the previous year. In the same year Robert
Goodden’s retirement was announced from the RCA and Gerald was flattered that his old RCA professor should ask
him if he was interested. Despite his booming business Gerald agreed to two days a week. He started the post in
1974, which was the year he received his first Royal Warrant. The Queen granted this, but the following year Warrants
were granted by Prince Philip and the Queen Mother.
However, towards the middle of the decade the storm clouds were beginning to gather. In the UK there was an economic
malaise with double-figure inflation followed by industrial unrest when the government capped pay rises. The
luxury trade was beginning to suffer. However, worse was to come. The 1975 Budget imposed a luxury rate of VAT at
25 per cent. Furthermore, the rates on the Benney increased 14 fold in the space of two years. The inevitable happened:
Benney had to gradually make his workforce redundant. He allowed the qualified ones to retain their tools on
the grounds that he hoped to re-employ them at a later date. The following year the luxury VAT rate was halved, but
of course by then the damage had been done. In 1977, the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, despite the fact that
the event was a good year for silversmiths, Gerald placed his Southwark workshop on the market. However, he did
ask the workmen he had made redundant if they would like to return to the Benney fold, but at Beenham as opposed
to London. A dozen responded in the affirmative and by 1978, it was business as usual, but on a slightly reduced
The output may have been down, but the workshop continued to produce even more amazing pieces. In 1980 the
Prince of Wales granted Gerald a Royal Warrant, making his total four. He was the first British craftsman to hold so
many. There were some groundbreaking achievements in the enamel that was made form the 1980s onwards, such
as Benney’s Court wine cup for his exclusive use at Goldsmiths’ Hall; the bowl of strawberries made for Lord and
Lady Astor’s Ruby Wedding Anniversary and the iconic thistle vase made for the Company in 1992. Two years later
Gerald with his son Simon opened a shop in Knightsbridge, which following Gerald’s retirement in 1999 Simon continued until the Summer of 2010.
Now he has an office in Knightsbridge as well as the workshops and studio at his home in Wiltshire. Sadly Gerald Benney died in 2008.
Gerald Benney and The Pearson Silver Collection: Our contact with Gerald Benney began in 1994. Since his retirement
in 1998, he took a considerable interest in the formation of the Collection. We are fortunate in having the
first piece that he ever made. All eras are reasonably well represented, but our group of boxes is particularly strong.
Of note is the 18 carat gold example weighing well over half a kilo and a pair of silver gilt 18 carat gold ones with
strawberry red enamel covers, each set with an opal. Our favourites elsewhere are the pair of candelabra made for
Lord Alastair McAlpine and the enamel centrepiece, which is the only surviving enamel centrepiece emanating from
Gerald’s workshop. What is now The Pearson Silver Collection was the largest private lender to the Gerald Benney
retrospective at Goldsmiths’ Hall in 2005, which our Curator John Andrew helped curate.
Convent educated she was destined to read modern languages at Cambridge. However, to her parents’
horror, she fell in love at 17 with a Bosnian Serb artist and it changed the course of her life: She became
the country’s leading female silver designer.
Educated at Saint Clare’s Convent in Seaton, Jocelyn Burton headed to Lady Margaret House, Cambridge where she
started cramming for a place to read modern languages at one of the city’s colleges. However, she soon fell head over
heals in love with Radovan Kraguli. Kraguli was based at London’s Sir John Cass College and after two years of
cramming, Jocelyn abandoned modern languages for the same place of learning. She wanted to study silversmithing.
While this may have been the decade of free love, it was not an era of equal opportunities. The College was adamant
that women could not enrol full-time for the silver department, so Jocelyn had to sign-up for jewellery during the day
and participate in silversmithing classes in the evenings. However, worthy of a Brian Rix farce popular at the time, there
was an interconnecting door between the two departments and Jocelyn found that she could hop between the two
during the day.
Although it may have initially seemed that Jocelyn had made the wrong choice, she soon proved everyone wrong by
winning the De Beers’ International Diamond Award in 1968 for a design of a diamond jewel. This is a very prestigious
award and for it to be won by a student shook the industry as well as the field of art education. Jocelyn decided that
she would like to combine her education with a day’s work experience each week in the trade. These were not
enlightened times in the educational field and the College refused. Jocelyn was not amused. She gave up her
jewellery course at Sir John Cass and obtained an unofficial two-year apprenticeship with a Hatton Garden jeweller,
but continued her silversmithing night classes. Two years later, much to Jocelyn’s annoyance, work experience in the
trade became an integral part of the course she had abandoned.
Having decided to set up on her own in 1970, she found the ground floor of a property to rent in a peaceful backwater
a stone’s throw from Hatton Garden. It had been a stable and needed a considerable amount of work to convert it into
a workshop. Thankfully her then boyfriend was an architect. The entire property, which she now owns, is both her studio
and home. Her first commercial venture was to go into partnership with Charles de Temple. He had a shop in Bond
Street selling avant-garde jewellery and Jocelyn designed and made an 18 carat range for him. Feeling that the
business arrangement was loaded in de Temple’s favour, she has not entered into a partnership since. The partnership
was mainly successful however and de Temple introduced Jocelyn to the founder of the “Galerie Jean Renet” in Old
Bond Street, which specialised in both contemporary silver and jewellery and while Jocelyn initially supplied the latter,
she was keen to design silver. She started with champagne flutes where the exterior texturing was inspired by wax
running down a candle (Wakely & Wheeler made the flutes, though she added the texturing). From this stage Jocelyn
decided that designing as opposed to making was her forte. Indeed, Jocelyn produces exceptionally fine drawings,
some of which are now available as posters. Her next silver venture was what she describes as a range of ‘outrageous
powder puffs’. Yes, we do recall a boudoir item modelled as a human penis in an auction a few years back.
As the 1970s progressed, the fledgling business started to grow. In 1972-3 she was commissioned by the Foreign &
Commonwealth Office to make a mace for presentation by the House of Commons to the legislative Assembly of
Western Samoa to mark the country’s independence in 1974. Jocelyn had already started to feature seahorses in
her work and a natural progression was to incorporate cast seashells into the mace. Another commercial venture
came her way in 1973. A wealthy businessman decided to open a shop in St James’s offering Jocelyn’s silver and
de Temple’s jewellery. Jocelyn switched allegiance from Galerie Jean Renet to the new outlet and abandoned
outrageous powder puffs for more traditional organic forms that not infrequently incorporated castings of shells.
To commemorate the introduction of the platinum hallmark at the London Assay Office on January 2nd 1975, Jocelyn
was commissioned by one of the largest platinum producers to make a piece to mark the event. She designed a modern
interpretation of a Renaissance standing cup. The piece was publicly hallmarked with great pomp and ceremony at
Goldsmiths’ Hall. Later that year her designs were unveiled as a couple of limited edition pieces for Aurum. To
commemorate the 300th anniversary of the start of rebuilding St Paul’s she designed a quaich of which 900 were
made. For the Friends of the Fitzwilliam Museum, she designed a goblet that was marketed to raise funds for the
museum. Known as the Fitzwilliam Cup, it was inspired by an Anglo Saxon chalice and each one is set with five
8-carat cabochon topaz – the incorporation of semi precious stones into silver is another feature of Jocelyn’s work.
Until more recent years, there has been a relatively steady flow of commercial designs from Jocelyn’s studio. However,
she has undertaken innumerable notable commissions for royalty in the UK and overseas, the British aristocracy, and
institutions including the Victoria & Albert Museum, 10 Downing Street, the Marylebone Cricket Club and, of course,
City Livery Companies. In fact, Prince Phillip was so taken with a pair of four-foot high wall sconces featuring dolphins,
a trident and a triton shell that Jocelyn designed for the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers in 1995, that he
commissioned her to make a pair of mustard pots, each featuring a dolphin, for presentation to the fishmongers.
One of her proudest moments was in 2003 when she was awarded the City and Guild’s Prince Phillip Gold Medal for
displaying ‘outstanding individual achievement in the area of silversmithing.’ She was the first female recipient since
the award’s inception in 1962.
From the mid-1990s she has also been designing impressive chandeliers and other lighting for clients overseas and,
nearer to home, for the dining room at the Garrick Club, as well as for private individuals. All Jocelyn’s major works are
bespoke but she does carry a range of commercial jewellery and smaller gold and silver items.
Jocelyn Burton can still be found beavering away on exquisite designs and creating timeless pieces of silver and gold
in her home and studio of forty years in the heart of London. At the beginning of 2011 Jocelyn created five designs
depicting an eight-metre chandelier. She is currently working on a shooting themed collection of accessories for men
and women who hunt, and has just completed a commission for a stately British country house: a surtout de table
fashioned as a lily pond.
Jocelyn Burton and The Pearson Silver Collection: We first contacted Jocelyn in 1999. Having purchased a
dozen white wine goblets with seahorse entwined on the stems, the Pearsons decided that it would be better if the
seahorses were gilded so as to give them greater prominence. After the task was done Joseph Pearson telephoned
Jocelyn to confess that he had proceeded without first referring to her. She was quite relaxed as she produced this
range with and without gilding. In 2004, she was delighted that after eight years searching we had managed to secure
the sixth “Fitzwilliam Cup” for the Collection. A small celebratory dinner party was held with Jocelyn as the guest of honour.
He trained as a silversmith but was not that enamoured with his courses. Although very fortunate with his commissions while at College, he decided to combine teaching with designing. During the 1950s he was prolific, but later following promotions, his educator role took precedent until his retirement.
Born at Rugby in 1925, he secured a place at his local grammar school and in 1942, at the suggestion of his art teacher, applied to the Birmingham College of Arts and Crafts. However, his studies were interrupted by service in World War II. Towards the end of hostilities, he was transferred to the Education Corps where he taught arts and crafts to servicemen awaiting to be demobbed, a move that later proved to be significant. Back in Birmingham in 1947 the College had merged with the Vittoria Street School for Jewellers and Silversmiths. He did not find his National Design Diploma (NDD) course inspiring, considering that the art side was taught with rigid protocol. However, at the end of his first year he was awarded a travelling scholarship and spent three weeks touring Scandinavia where he was impressed with the pioneering work of the region’s silversmiths, where the emphasis was on design. Eric’s work has been described as ‘leaning heavily on Scandinavia’. Certainly he did not follow the favoured flutes of his silversmithing tutors at Birmingham.
His course at the UK’s second city being over in 1949, he applied to the Royal College of Arts (RCA) on the basis that a friend had done so. He studied silversmithing under Professor Robert Goodden. After the dictatorial approach to studying at Birmingham, he was astounded at the RCA’s easy going atmosphere, but later questioned what contribution the College had made to his development. Although from all accounts he impressed visitors to the RCA very early on during his studies with both his originality of designing as well as working at the bench, Eric decided that London’s silversmiths were far more skilled than he could ever be. He therefore made the decision that he would design silver and not make it. Nevertheless, George Hughes, the Clerk at the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths (the Company) and a man with a discerning eye, commissioned Eric during his first year to design and make a paten and chalice for his local church. This is one of only probably 12 pieces that Eric actually made during his career.
Graham Hughes, the son of George, was the Company’s Exhibition Secretary at this time. He considered that silver should be more inspiring with contemporary designs being offered. Each year the Company exhibited at the British Industries Fair, its stand being staffed by silver students. Eric volunteered and his immediate reaction was that the display was predominantly traditional silver, a view confirmed that Eric was a kindred spirit. However, change was afoot for in 1950, preparations were advanced for the 1951 Festival of Britain. With the national mood of optimism and both the public and industry being encouraged to be design conscious, the Company did not find it difficult to encourage both institutions and the larger silversmithing companies to commission contemporary designed silver. Young Eric Clements entered competitions. Indeed, he won first prize in the 1949-50 National Design Competition for a silver tea service, while the then unknown Alex Styles came second – Eric considered his entry was outdated compared to Alex’s. The young Clements was invited to enter the Company’s Festival of Britain competition by the silversmithing company of Padgett and Braham. He did not win, but his designs were exhibited at the Company’s subsequent `modern Silver Exhibition’. This resulted with the hotel Grosvenor House ordering a candelabrum designed by Eric. It was made by his sponsor for the competition, Padgett and Braham. The hotel was so pleased with it that it ordered another. This was lent for exhibition throughout the 1950s. This of course raised Eric’s profile and increased the demand for his designs. The first of these was a rowing trophy for Merton College, Oxford. While visiting the city, he introduced himself to Payne & Son, the silversmiths in the High Street.
Although Eric technically graduated from the RCA in 1952, he in fact stayed on for a further term, which meant that his graduation show was delayed until the following year. The reason for the extension was to give him experience of designing for industry at Firmin & Sons of Birmingham. His work experience more or less coincided with the accession of HM Queen Elizabeth II and his first task was to design the Royal Livery buttons bearing her cypher. Later work included designing regimental badges. His temporary Birmingham post over he decided that despite his commercial success, teaching was his true vocation, but he wished to combine this with designing silver. By a stroke of luck he secured the post of metalwork master at Drayton Secondary School in Ealing, west London and started his design practice by working in the evenings, weekends and vacations.
Throughout the 1950s, Payne & Son put commissions his way. He was also designing and having pieces made for the exhibitions that the Company was regularly organising. At one of these held at the Festival Hall in 1954, one of his old Birmingham tutors, Ralph Baxendale (now Head of School), entered the lift that Eric and his wife were using to visit the exhibition gallery. During their ascent he said there was a post vacant at Birmingham on the NDD course in the autumn if he wished to apply for it. He did and got the job, on the understanding that he would continue with his design practice. Having two jobs in the 1950s was very much frowned upon, but Eric had a very good argument, ‘I would expect a professor of surgery to be a surgeon and likewise anyone teaching design should be a designer.’ He certainly had a point.
The Clements design practice really began to blossom from the mid-1950s. In 1955 it progressed from silver to anodised aluminium trays in a range of colours and then seemed to have no bounds. There were window and door furniture (knobs, handles and catches in common parlance), tools for Polycell, cigarette lighters to heating controls, from tape measure cases to a range of stainless steel. If this was not enough, in 1957 he was appointed Design Consultant to Mappin & Webb. As well as a range of domestic silverware for the company (including several cutlery patterns) he also designed the silverware for P&O’s SS Canberra. Later, Mappin & Webb launched this in stainless steel and marketed it as Overture. However, his most successful design for the company was The Clements Tea and Coffee Service. These were mainly produced in silver plate, but some sterling silver examples were produced in the 1960s. Plated versions continued to be produced up until the 1990s.
Despite his growing industrial design practice in the 1950s, he did continue undertaking one-off silver commissions. These included a coffee and hot milk pot for HM Queen Elizabeth II to present to her hosts during her State Visit to Denmark in 1957. There were prestigious commissions in the 1960s including the Sword of Office of the Chief of the Air Staff, a set of three electoliers the UK Government presented to Jamaica upon its independence and a complete dining service for Massey College, Toronto Canada. This is quite an achievement for someone with a full-time teaching position. There is no doubt that teaching was his passion. He believed in the inspirational possibility of sensitive teaching. Certainly his experience of design work benefited his students. He explains, ‘I felt that it was important that my own design experience should be incorporated into the design exercises and projects that were set students. Therefore, my offerings to students were based on introducing realism in various ways. My own design commissions disguised, but including specific limitations and given dimensions, materials and/or processes always allowed the student room for manoeuvre; recognising the need for him or her to develop personal expressions and ideas, individual characteristics and quirks.’
His success as an educationalist resulted in promotion. The reorganisation of the Birmingham College of Art within the Birmingham Polytechnic from 1964-72, he became its Head of the School of Industrial Design. He also became heavily involved with the formation of the Faculty of Three Dimensional Design. In 1973 he was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Art and Design at Wolverhampton Polytechnic and later its Assistant Director. His personal design output considerably declined, but did not cease, during this period. It became more active after his retirement in 1985. His last commission was undertaken in 2005 when he designed the Agincourt Cup for The Keatley Trust.
Eric Clements and The Pearson Silver Collection We bought our first pieces of Eric Clements in 1998 with the purchase of Mappin and Webb’s The Clements Coffee Service (comprising coffee pot, milk jug and sugar). Nine months later we purchased the teapot in the same range, making it a combined coffee and tea service. Forming a four-piece combined service of a retailer’s range is not unusual. However, in 2003 we secured a pair of hand-raised 1959 fruit bowls at auction by Leonard Burt, engraved ‘Designed by Eric Clements’. Four years later a dealer offered us a bowl and cover dated 1959 with the same maker’s mark and Eric’s designer by-line. Initially we turned it down as being ‘corporate’ as opposed to ‘domestic’. Periodically the dealer re-offered it to us and again we declined. Later he pointed out that the piece was listed in Eric Clements: Silver & Design (1950-2000). It was, but with a pair of en suite fruit bowls. It was our belief that we had the missing fruit bowls. Images were sent to Eric, whom we had contacted some years earlier regarding another matter, and he confirmed that this was the case. The Collection contains only three pieces of Eric’s work, but then very little of his silver is available upon the secondary market.
He started his training as a silversmith when he was only 13 years of age. Three years later he became apprenticed to Omar Ramsden, the leading silver designer of the day. His apprenticeship over he stayed on for a couple of years before obtaining a scholarship when he was in his mid-20s to study at the Central School of Arts. He graduated in the year that World War II began, but from the very beginning he received prestigious commissions. Throughout the 1950s and in the early 1960s he was the UK’s best-known silversmith.
Leslie Gordon Durbin was born in Fulham, London in 1913. His father died in the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918 and his mother and her two children went to live with her parents. In 1926 aged 13 years, Leslie obtained a London County Council Trade Scholarship and studied silversmithing at the Central School of Arts and Crafts (CSAC). He continued his normal school lessons in the morning and went to study at the CSAC in the afternoons. When his education finished in 1929 he was recommended to Omar Ramsden, who duly took on Leslie as an apprentice. However, much to young Durbin’s horror, he was apprenticed as a ‘chaser, engraver and decorator of precious metals’, while he in fact wanted general silversmith training, so he continued with night school at the CSAC. His apprenticeship over, he remained with Ramsden for another couple of years, but in 1938 won a Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths’ (the Company’s) scholarship for a year at the CSAC.
While one suspects that life had been difficult for Leslie, matters now changed. He entered a competition to design the plate for the Chapel of Chivalry in Guildford Cathedral and won. Durbin made the pieces together with five colleagues and tutors at the CSAC and the finished pieces were exhibited at the Company’s Exhibition of Modern Silverware at Goldsmiths’ Hall. Incidentally, this was the first exhibition of contemporary silver staged by the Company. It was to be visited by Queen Mary and the Company proposed a gift for her 12-year-old granddaughter Princess Elizabeth to be presented to the Queen. Reginald Hill, who had won the Company’s Travel Scholarship in 1937 and Leslie Durbin were asked to submit designs. Durbin’s design won, but his design of a casket with a finial in the form of gambolling lambs to symbolise its recipient being in ‘the spring-time’ of life was executed as a joint collaboration between Hill and Durbin so as to meet its delivery deadline.
In 1939 Leslie won a Travel Scholarship from the Company, but his tour had to be cut short because of the threat of war. Furthermore, the Company was going to sponsor his visit to the New York World Fair later in the year, but that too was cancelled. Upon his return he was asked to make a dish for presentation to HM King George VI and HM Queen Elizabeth by Sir Stephen and Lady Courtauld to commemorate the Royal couple’s State visit to Canada during that summer. He received this commission because a liveryman of the Company, E Alfred Jones, was keen to promote up-and-coming young silversmiths. The Company’s then Clerk, George Hughes, introduced him to Leslie Durbin and Jones in turn introduced him to the Courtauld’s at their splendid Art Deco mansion adjacent to the great Hall of the medieval Eltham Palace in southeast London. Leslie felt very much out of place at the luncheon party and turned down the offer of an outhouse at Eltham from which to work.
Instead he appealed to Francis Adam, his tutor at the CSAC who gave him the use of his garden shed workshop at his Lambeth home. It has been said that the Courtaulds’ Royal commission resulted in Leslie’s call-up for war service being delayed. However, the Royal dish was hallmarked 1939 which does not explain why Leslie did not report to the RAF until December 3rd 1941. Up until then he seems to have been generally kept very busy with very important institutional commissions and once those were completed, with private ones. Indeed, we know of one Leslie Durbin design made in 1942 while he was in the RAF by Francis Adam and Emerson Hammond, another tutor at the CSAC. Leslie was soon transferred, like Alex Styles, to the Modelmakers’ Section of the Central Interpretation Unit. Although displeased that his late call-up meant there was no leave for six months, it was not long before the young Leslie Durbin had been offered an opportunity that brought him very much to the public eye and indefinite leaf from the forces.
To commemorate the heroic stance made by the citizen’s of Stalingrad during the besieging of their city by the Germans (over a million citizens had lost their lives before the besiegers surrendered), it was decided that they should be presented with the Sword of Honour for Stalingrad. Following a limited competition organised by the Company, King George VI selected the design of R M Y Gleadowe. Wakely and Wheeler, who usually executed Gleadowe’s designs, was asked to make the piece, but declined as they were engaged with war work. However, Arthur Wakely asked Leslie to make it and he agreed to undertake the gold and silver components. Although the Germans surrendered on February 2nd, the Foreign Office made no announced regarding the sword until June. British Paramount filmed the making process and the public’s imagination was captivated by the painstaking efforts of the craftsmen at work seen during their cinema visits. Before it was presented to Marshall Stalin on November 24th, the sword was put on exhibition in London and a further 15 British cities for one day only. People queued to see it – an estimated 30,000 people in each location, making a total of nearly half a million. No wonder it was described as the most high profile British sword since Excalibur.
After the War Leslie Durbin went into partnership with Len Moss, his senior at Ramsden’s, who was known as ‘an artist with a hammer’. Their workshop was established at 62 Rochester Place in northwest London. Following Leslie’s exposure with the Sword of Stalingrad and his early commissions, it is not surprising that there was no shortage of work. Furthermore, Ramsden had died and his widow pointed work in the direction of her husband’s former apprentices. In the introduction to Leslie Durbin’s retrospective catalogue at Goldsmiths’ Hall in the summer of 1982, Susan Hare, the then Librarian of the Company wrote, ‘Leslie Durbin’s designs in the early 1950s were like a breath of spring air in their innovative quality, while still retaining a strong feeling for the symbolic.’ Leslie was a superb modeller and a characteristic of his work was the incorporation of birds and animals into his work. He was a frequent visitor to London Zoo. Mrs Ramsden also sold him the casts for his models and these too incorporated into some of his work.
The quality of Durbin’s output was always of the highest standard, with the majority of the work being handraised. A high profile piece to emerge from the workshop in the early 1950s, was the Festival of Britain Tea Service to be used by the King and Queen and other dignitaries at the Festival’s Royal Pavilion. Designed by Robert Gooden, it is of superb craftsmanship but of questionable design. With regard to the normal output from the workshop, Leslie sought the commissions, designed the pieces, undertook the modelling and worked at the bench. Despite the output with a relatively small team he also managed to teach. Initially he taught at the CSAC from 1946 and then at the Royal College of Art, where he continued until the mid-1950s. He therefore encountered Gerald Benney, David Mellor and Robert Welch as students. Although Len Moss retired in 1970, Leslie continued working at Rochester Place. The workshop was purchased by Hector Miller in 1975 and after a short overlap Leslie moved to a new workshop in the garden of his Kew home. There he continued to work at his own pace on projects that interested him. Some of these were high profile, such as the modelling of the Queen’s head for the special 1977 Jubilee Mark; from 1984-7, designing the reverses for the regional £1 coins (these were repeated from 1989-92) and in 1994 the reverse of the £2 commemorating the 350th anniversary of the founding of the Bank of England. One of his last commissions was to design a silver spoon for the Clothworkers’ Company to commemorate the millennium.
Leslie Durbin died on 24 February 2005 aged 92. He was working well into his 80s.
Leslie Gordon Durbin and The Pearson Silver Collection We are fortunate to have a reasonable cross section of Durbin in the Collection. Our first pieces were acquired in 1996. More recently we have secured an engraved and enamel silver dish designed and made by him in 1941; a box designed by Durbin and made by Francis Adam and Emmerson Hammond in 1942 as well as an imposing rose bowl of 1954*. Joseph’s favourite is the abstract sculpture in gilt and oxidised silver for the 1971 Businessman of the Year Award, while Louise finds the 1966 seal with its helmeted urchin figures charming. The model was in fact designed for sale as a souvenir at the Festival of Britain in 1951, but was rejected by the powers to be.
* These three pieces, together with numerous other acquisitions, are waiting to be photographed. When this has been completed, the new purchase will be added to the site.
He served a silversmithing apprentice, loved the craft, but not undertaking his Articles. Instead of entering the trade, he studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts. After World War II he combined a career as a successful silver designer with teaching design. Decades later, he is still very fondly remembered by the students he inspired.
Born in 1914, he entered full-time Articles with a silversmith upon leaving school. However, the experience, as opposed to the craft, was not to his liking. His apprenticeship over, he secured a place at London’s Central School of Arts and Crafts (CSAC), which was indicative that he had an aptitude for working with silver. Indeed, he excelled not only technically, but also with regard to design. During his studies, not only did he hold all of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths’ (the Company’s) scholarships, but the Company acquired a cigarette box he made to commemorate the Coronation of HM King George VI and HM Queen Elizabeth.
Upon graduating from the CSAC he started work as a freelance designer. His most important commission prior to the War was the Ascot Gold Cup of 1939 for Elkington. After World War II he combined teaching design with his own design work. He taught first at his own alma mater which subsequently became part of the Sir John Cass School of Art. His design practice certainly got off to a good start, for in 1946 the Bank of England commissioned him to design dishes for presentation to various institutions and individuals. Commissions followed from City livery companies, Oxbridge and Cambridge Colleges, public bodies as well private individuals, corporate clients and indeed the Royal Family. After the 1953 Coronation, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh decided to present the Archbishop of Canterbury with an 18 carat gold communion set as a ‘thank you’ for officiating at the ceremony. Reginald Hill was asked to design it. By the 1950s he was regularly designing, though not exclusively, for the large silversmithing firm of C J Vander. Ian Haig, a student at the time recalls ‘Reggie Hill’, as he was affectionately known, telling him that over one weekend he designed 10 pieces for Vanders.
Students from the 1950s who were taught by Reggie have nothing but parise for him. ‘A brilliant educationalist, a fantastic designer, a gentleman and a gem of a man’, says one while another refers to him as, ‘A generous spirit, the last true professional designer’, while a third says he was, ‘An incredible teacher who was a master of what he did.’ However, perhaps his largest influence in the 1950s was upon the young Christopher Lawrence, then an apprentice at Vanders. Christopher says, ‘At this period in my life a major influence was Reginald Hill. He was the leading designer from the late 1940s, the 1950s and to some degree the 1960s. He had his work made at Vanders. Reggie was my design teacher at the Central School. He was brilliant and a lovely man. On my first day he asked me to draw a vase. When I’d finished it he looked at it for a while and said, “Yes, you’re going to be alright,” At 16-17, I had made my mind up that I wanted to be a designer-craftsman and not just a craftsman.’
Grant Macdonald was a student of Reggie Hill in the 1960s. He now owns and manages London’s largest silversmithing workshop. He has no hesitation in placing his success down to Reginald Hill as he explains, ‘I had been fortunate in learning the proper way of rendering drawings. Reggie Hill taught me how to be professional; even it was just a little napkin ring you were making. Today, everything is cost orientated, but I still think that the presentation of drawings and your presentation to people, even on the telephone, is very important. I think a lot of my current standards come from those times and the strictures of Reggie Hill’s teaching.’ However, perhaps the most amazing testament to Reginald Hill is the young Brian Fuller. After hearing Reggie speaking enthusiastically about a silversmithing course on a BBC radio programme, all he wanted to do was to become a silversmith. He did, worked as Gerald Benney’s work manager for a while before setting up his own successful workshop and retail outlet in Amersham.
Reginald Hill clearly made a valuable contribution to silversmithing. His designs in the 1940s and 1950s were certainly modern for their time. Of course during the 1950s new young designer silversmiths were establishing themselves as a new dynamism in the world of silver which gathered momentum in the 1960s with further new blood. Reggie Hill certainly fulfilled a role in the transition from traditional to modern silver. However, even more importantly he was an inspiration to the next generation of silversmiths.
The last piece of silver Reggie designed was a cup and cover Norman Vander was to present to the Company to mark his period as Prime Warden (1973-4). Sadly Reggie died before it was completed in 1975.
Reginald Hill and The Pearson Silver Collection We bought our first piece of Reginald Hill in 1999 from a dealer with whom we regularly then did business. We knew nothing of Hill and indeed, only knew that it was by him as it is inscribed fecit Reginald H Hill and bears his RHH maker’s mark. The following year we secured a 1946 dish similarly inscribed (but no fecit) and also with his maker’s mark. This, it has transpired, is one of the dishes he made for the Bank of England after the War. We have only seen one piece of Reginald Hill’s work since! The fact is that the work he designed for third parties bears their hallmark and not his. It is a shame that he did not insist that his facsimile signature appeared on those.
Where as engraving involves the removal of metal to create the desired pattern, chasing produces a linear line upon the metal by pushing it with hammers and punches and embossing its surface. Rod Kelly is Britain’s leading chaser of gold and silver. Given that he had no formal art instruction at school and in one report he came in the bottom ten per cent for metalwork, this is indeed an achievement.
Rod Allan Kelly was born in 1956 at Reading in Berkshire. He had no formal art education at school and one year even came 26th out of 28 for metalwork. At A-level he studied a somewhat strange combination of economics, history and sociology. Goodness knows what he would have become had an article not appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on one of the most successful of the 19th century’s book illustrators, Gustav Doré. The young Rod was hooked. He already had a penchant for the British book illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley who was a leading light in Britain during the late Victorian era. ‘I loved the intensity of the black lines and the vivid movement in both artists’ work’, he recalled. Despite having no secondary level academic art qualifications, in 1975 he managed to convince Lancashire Polytechnic - with just one drawing - to give him a place on a one-year arts foundation course.
The Polytechnic was not disappointed for he passed his art foundation with flying colours and secured a place on a 3-D design degree course at the Birmingham School of Art. Towards the end of the his second year at Birmingham, he discovered chasing by chance, borrowed the School’s specialist tools over the summer vacation and experimented chasing beakers in gilding metal. This was a real Road to Damascus experience as Rod had discovered the metallic equivalent of Doré and Beardsley’s book illustrations: forms using lines and low relief depth. In his final year at Birmingham he applied to the Royal College of Art (RCA). Graduating from Birmingham with a first, he was accepted. However, as was customary at that time he took a year out. Having obtained work experience with Michael Appleby, he spent the summer of 1980 cycling round France with a friend, starting his course in London that autumn.
At the RCA Gerald Benney was Professor of Silversmithing and Rod was given every opportunity to hone his skills as a chaser. He also benefited from the expertise of John Bartholomew, who had worked in the trade for many years before being recruited by Gerald as a technician. Rod is unusual for not only does he decorate the pieces, but he also usually makes them, raising each item by hand using stakes and hammers. He considers he made his first competent chased item in 1982. It sold at his graduation show the following year. Upon graduating from the RCA, Rod shared a workshop in London’s Brick Lane for a year before moving to share another in the capital’s Old Street with Clive Burr, Jane Short, Alistair McCallum and Shelia McDonald. Shelia, an enameller the year below him at the RCA, later became his wife. His first major commission upon graduating was from the P&O Makower Trust for a chased vase for presentation to the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1985. Two years later Rod and Shelia moved from the metropolis and established a joint workshop in the stables of what is still their Norfolk home.
Rod has mainly worked to commission throughout his working life and indeed continues to do so. He has designed and created objects for members of the British Royal Family, livery companies in the City of London, 10 Downing Street, churches, cathedrals, museums, private individuals and collectors. His output has been very varied: from the gold cup for the Golden Jubilee Stakes to condiments, from gold beakers to silver covers used in binding books with everything from spoons to candlesticks, boxes to jugs as well. Rod is a man with an eye for detail. When approached regarding a commission he likes to spend time with his client so that he both understands his or her requirements and also to obtain information about their interests. In other words, he likes the object that he designs to match the personality of those for whom it is made. He regards research as crucial so that the items depicted in the decoration of the pieces are correct in every detail. He has an extraordinary ability to turn shapes round in his mind rather like a 3-D computer, which saves him having to draw a design that definitely will not work. When the time is right, he draws the design and gives thought to the shape of the item upon which it will be chased. Of course, there is no guarantee that when it is drawn that he will be happy with the result, so, he may then make a model so that he can see whether the concept or the proportions are ‘right’. If it is not, it is back to the drawing board. When everything is to his satisfaction, then of course, there is the great unveiling of the design to the client for approval.
Rod recalls making the pair of vases in the Pearson Silver Collection. Garrard’s, then the Crown Jewellers, commissioned them in 1987. This was the first sizeable commercial contract and the event was a milestone in his career. If he remembers correctly, it took him several days to complete the designs to his satisfaction and that chasing the vases took him five weeks – he works at the rate of a detailed square inch per hour. These were one of the exceptions to his raising the objects he was to chase. On this occasion the raising was done by a specialist firm up to the top of the ovoid body – Rod completed the short-waisted necks and flat disc tops, which were then soldered into place by the firm that raised the pieces. Each of the two vases features a trio of carp swimming in the water with the heads of a couple just breaking the water line. The fishes’ eyes are embellished with gold inlay with pond weeds framing the subjects. ‘When I drew the design’, Rod revealed, ‘I went out and bought three rainbow trout, contorted their bodies into curved forms and used these to capture the movement of the fish – then we ate them! These line drawings were used as the basis for the swirling carp on the vases. I visited the River Itchen and plucked weeds of various species so I could represent the weed in swirling pattern.’
Rod has also designed a couple of coins for the Royal Mint: the Brunel £2 in 2006 and the £5 crown to celebrate the 450th Anniversary of the Accession of Queen Elizabeth I in 2008. Having belatedly been pointed towards art following an article on Doré in the Sunday Telegraph and stumbling into chasing while at Birmingham, his introduction to coin design was also non-textbook. Kevin Clancy, secretary of the Royal Mint Advisory Committee on the Design of Coins, which is chaired by Sir Christopher Frayling, Rector of the Royal College of Art, saw example of Rod’s silver displayed at the Treasures of the 20th Century exhibition at Goldsmiths’ Hall in the summer of 2000. He considered that Rod’s chasing skills could mean that he would be good to design coins. So, Rod was invited to do submit a design for the Brunel £2, but was clearly told not to hold his breath as he was an outsider. The rest is history. The two other Post War British silversmiths to have designed coins are Stuart Devlin and Leslie Durbin.
Rod Kelly and The Pearson Silver Collection Currently there are only three pieces of Rod’s work in the Collection. Over the past decade or so very little of his work has appeared on the secondary market. We acquired our first piece, a water jug, in April 2001, the item having previously been consigned to Christie’s South Kensington by Asprey Garrard in 1999. At the sale a dealer purchased it and we subsequently acquired the piece from the dealer’s company. We purchased the pair of vases, the largest pieces of his work to be sold at auction, from Bonham’s Post War British Silver Sale in October 2006. Joseph Pearson is unsure when we first got to know Rod, but is likely to have been after our 2001 acquisition but before 2003 when the Collection commissioned a caddy spoon.
There were no relaxed student days at art college for Christopher. He started at the bench straight from school aged 15¾, leaving home around 6am. Three days a week during term time he went to evening class and didn’t arrive home until 11pm. Inspired by Reginald Hill, his goal as an apprentice was to become a designer-silversmith. He achieved his ambition.
Christopher Nigel Lawrence was born in 1936. It is alleged that he started to use a hammer, the smiths’ primary tool, at the tender age of three years when he nailed wood to the floor. At school it soon became clear that his inclination was towards using his hands as opposed to the academic. Much to his parents’ consternation, he did not pass his 11+ examination to his local grammar school, so went to his local comprehensive. In retrospect, this was possibly the better move for in his second year he began metal work classes and soon found that he had a natural aptitude for working with metal. Unfortunately his metalwork teacher was an engineer as opposed to a craftsman, so he did not benefit from being well-instructed, but clearly he realised that he had a talented pupil and gave him a completely free hand to experiment.
It was evident that his parents were thinking about his future, even if Christopher was not. It was suggested that Christopher may like to go up to town for the day with the scoutmaster at the church where his father was Minister. He went by train with Norman Vander from Westcliff-on-Sea to London to the silversmithing company of C J Vander. There were 20 people working away with metal and Christopher Lawrence was spellbound. On the way home, Norman Vander asked him if he would like to be a silversmith. The Lawrence could not believe his luck and it was agreed that he start his training aged 15¾ on a weekly wage of £1 17s 6d (£1.87½) a week. He had day release on a Wednesday to the Central School of Arts and Crafts (CSAC) and on three days a week evening classes there from 7-9pm three days a week.
He officially became an apprentice the following year to Bill Cassley, who was a flat work – or a tray maker in common parlance – which is the most difficult hammer work in the silversmiths’ repertoire. However, it was not plain sailing for Christopher. Mr Cassley had worked through the 1930s recession and in common with other craftsman of the period who had done so, their insecurity manifested itself in being reluctant to pass on everything they knew, in case the person they were teaching was considered a candidate for their job. He was also a smoker, which meant that each winter he routinely was off ill with bronchitis for six weeks. In Cassley’s absence the other flat worker at Vander’s should have taken him under his wing. However, Christopher was perceived by him to be hand in glove with Norman Vander as it was through him that he got the job.
The working environment was certainly stacked against Christopher. Imagine his feeling when a commission arrived during Cassley’s absence to make meat and fish dishes for a bank. The task was given to Christopher. He explained, ‘My first task was to make a three foot long salmon dish. I was 18 and knew I was being tested to the absolute limit. When you make a piece of metal of this length, all the tension is down to length and virtually none in the width. Every time you hit the metal it goes like a banana. Over those five or six weeks on the order, I grew up. By trial and error I learnt to control the metal. After that I got all the large dishes to make.’
It was during Reginald Hill’s classes (see the entry for Reginald Hill above) that Christopher decided that he wanted to design as well as make. When the he thought the time was right, he asked Norman Vander if he could undertake the company’s presentational drawings. Initially, the response was negative, until he explained that he would be undertaking the work at home. Christopher said, ‘I wanted the experience. When discussing a commission with a client, you only have one chance and drawings are your showcase. Reggie [Hill] thought this was brilliant. My own ideas began to creep into the designs.’
So, while an apprentice, the young Lawrence had his first taste of designing. He completed his apprenticeship in 1958 and would possibly had stayed at Vanders had Norman Bassant decided not to return after his National Service to R E Stone’s (where he had been an apprentice) and instead switch to C J Vander where he was better paid. Norman suggested that as Christopher had mastered flat work he now needed to do the same with hollow raising and planishing. He encouraged him to apply to R E Stone. He did so and got a job. Norman Vander was far from pleased, but Christopher was over the moon. ‘Stone was so puritanical that everything was raised – even if it could be spun. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant!’, he still enthused 50 years later. By his mid-20s, Christopher Lawrence had gained superb experience at the bench, some design experience and for the cherry on the cake he had won a Jacques Cartier Award, the UK’s premier craft prize. He received it for making a rose bowl designed by Alex Styles.
Meanwhile, at Tottenham Court Road, Gerald Benney, who was Christopher’s senior by six years, had been in business for half a dozen years or so. Although the business was growing, Gerald only employed one craftsman. Having secured the commission to make the silver for Coventry Cathedral, he was in need of the skills of another silversmith and one who excelled at flat work and who could make the Cathedral’s large bread plates. Christopher Lawrence was the obvious choice and in turn Christopher leapt at the opportunity, particularly as he would now be working exclusively with the contemporary as opposed to the traditional.
There is no doubting that the two formed an excellent working relationship as well as mutually earning the greatest respect for each other. At times there appears to have been a wish to push the craftsman’s technical boundaries to their absolute limits. In 1965 Christopher won his second Cartier Award for making the mace, which incorporated fluting, Gerald designed for the University of East Anglia. Later Gerald asked Christopher what the ultimate challenge would be for a hammer man. Christopher’s response was ‘Repeating right-angled tapering fluting, rather like the bellows of a concertina.’ Gerald designed a decanter incorporating this feature. Crafted in 18 carat gold it won Christopher his third Cartier Award.
Although Christopher was challenged technically at Benney’s and he was in charge of an increasing number of craftsmen in the workshop, there was a dimension from the work that was missing – design. It had been his ambition from his apprenticeship days to be a designer-silversmith and he saw an opportunity. The Benney workshop had been designing silver for Reading Corporation. The Town Clerk at Reading was friendly with his counterpart at Southend-on-Sea, which was the borough in which Christopher lived. Christopher introduced himself to his local Town Clerk and in due course submitted designs. He learnt that Southend was in discussion with other silversmiths, but he did not know their identity. The fact that a local resident was now in the running brought matters to a swift conclusion – Christopher Lawrence won the commission. Unfortunately, one of the other silversmiths was Gerald Benney, but the two men parted on good terms.
Christopher established a small workshop in the garden of his home in 1968, but four months later opened a design studio and workshop at nearby Leigh-on-Sea. As well as 30 pieces for Southend (total cost £12,000), he had three other commissions. These included a dinner service for a private client and Reginald Hill’s design work for Tessiers of Bond Street. This was excellent for a new start-up. However, matters soon got much better. Galerie Jean Renet, a new gallery in Old Bond Street devoted to contemporary silver and jewellery held a large exhibition of his work in 1970. It was a great success. Large exhibitions in Europe were held in 1971 and 1972 while in 1973 The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths staged a one-man show to commemorate ‘five years of meteoric artistic and commercial development’. The Lawrence workshop by the time had an impressive number of very fine craftsman.
Christopher Lawrence’s work was already generating considerable interest in the media. This exhibition gave his exposure a further boost. The highlight of the exhibition was part of a 600-piece dinner service for a prince from the Middle East. Norman Bassant, who was now working for Christopher, was awarded the Jacques Cartier award for the centrepiece. Then there was a multi-colour 18 carat gold perfume bottle secreted within four caskets of a pumpkin form. This was in multi-colour 18 carat gold set with gems and incredibly weighed 140 ounces. Add to this a good array of innovative domestic designs as well those with the classical Lawrence subtle lines and shapes and beyond doubt the 1970s was an era when works by Christopher Lawrence were riding high.
The demand for Christopher’s work was buoyant. Galerie Jean Renet was was seeking exclusivity, whereas the likes of C J Vander also wanted him to design for it. A second company was established called the House of Lawrian. This was a silver retail and wholesale business as well as a provider of design services. It was managed by Christopher’s oldest brother, but unfortunately not very well. While Christopher picked up the pieces, it was at a cost. At its zenith, there was a workforce of 20. To keep his craftsmen together, Christopher took the lease of a workshop at Southend, renting space to those who wanted to stay with him, but working as subcontractors as opposed employees. Christopher was also looking for a cash generator to provide him with liquidity. Stuart Devlin had his eggs, so what could Christopher develop? He found the answer driving round a roundabout enroute from Essex to London when he saw fungi growing. Initially he created botanical specimens for the Galerie Jean Renet and later a range of mushrooms with surprises for the Heritage Collection for a period of six years from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s. While not among Christopher’s favourites, they were, and indeed are still sought.
During the 1980s there was a steady flow of commissions into Christopher’s workshop. These were mainly from the UK from City Livery Companies, prestigious institutions and important private commissions together with some work from the Heritage Collection. In the 1990s he made commemorative items for the Bank of England’s 300th anniversary (1994) and later in the decade, limited edition pieces for the Royal Mint. More importantly he started undertaking work in the Middle East, particularly from the Sultan of Oman for whom in 1998 he made a 14-foot high 6-foot wide silver gilt cake stand weighing a ton. He continued undertaking work in the Middle East during the 21st century. However, his pièce de la resistance was a collaboration with Fred Rich, the enameller, who also was the winner of three Cartier Awards. The piece is a bowl and ewer. Christopher designed the bowl so that it incorporated the most difficult of feats for the flat worker with its rippled water effect making the bowl. Fred continued the aquatic theme by designing a three-sided tilted ewer (made by Christopher) enamelled with reeds and a reed warbler’s nest. This is a masterpiece of the silversmith’s and enameller’s craft.
Christopher Lawrence and The Pearson Silver Collection We bought our first pieces of Christopher Lawrence in 1993. Our first contact with Christopher was in 2001 when we purchased a ‘reed warbler’ candelabrum and a decanter set at a London auction, both of which we learnt had been made for his exhibition at Goldsmiths’ Hall (we did not then have a copy of the catalogue). Four years later we purchased a further ‘reed warbler’ candelabrum at auction on the south coast. Christopher did not like to tell us that we had originally purchased one of a pair, but was delighted when we reunited the pieces. The Collection has a reasonable representation of Christopher’s work. Joseph has a Lawrence inkstand on his desk, but his favourite is the 1972 coffee service complete with tray. Louise’s favourite is the 1970 triangular section jug that she describes as ‘a peach’. Just to dispel the myth that modern designer-silver has only recently risen in price, we purchased that in September 2002 for £723.28.
He wanted to be an apprentice in a silver workshop. He completed the pre-apprenticeship course, but was then told he was too old by a few days to undertake one. Today Grant Macdonald Silversmiths Limited is the largest designer-silver workshop in London and possibly even of the whole of the UK. While in the 1970s, Grant’s work was almost exclusively retailed in the UK, today over 90 per cent of his output is exported. Grant Macdonald refers to himself as ‘a purveyor of royal gifts’. He was also Prime Warden of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths in 2008-9.
Grant Macdonald was born during 1947 at Palmers Green in North London. At school he liked metalwork, woodwork and drawing, ‘The rest was a bit of a challenge’, he confessed. His father, a GP (ie general doctor of medicine), possibly discussed Grant’s future with a patient called Fred Ingram. He had an unusual pastime – silversmithing - which he had taught himself from a book. His father arranged for Grant to visit’s Fred’s workshop one afternoon. Grant made a spoon and was hooked, He became a regular visitor at Fred’s each Saturday afternoon for the next couple of years and made quite an array of objects. Keen to train professionally as a silversmith, in 1964 he applied for a pre-apprenticeship course at the Central School of Arts and Crafts (CSAC), showed his ‘portfolio’, sat an entrance exam and was accepted. However, it appeared all had been in vain. Goodness knows how this was overlooked by the CSAC when he applied, but at the end of his first year, he was marginally too old to be accepted as an apprentice.
Needless to say, all was not lost. While Grant may not have been academically inclined at school, he was very enterprising. While at the CSAC, he got himself a Saturday and holiday job with a local jeweller, established a workshop at his parents’ home in the cellar and gained experience sizing rings, soldering charms on bracelets and undertaking jewellery and silver repairs. The jeweller also gave him the opportunity to interact with people as well as his first taste of selling, ‘If someone came in for a watch strap, it was my job to sell them a new watch – it worked quite a few times’, he revealed. After his apprenticeship disappointment, he decided to carry on with his studies. In the autumn of 1965, the CSAC’s silversmithing and jewellery departments had merged with the Sir John Cass College’s Department of Fine and Applied Art to form the Sir John Cass School of Art (the Cass), so he applied and was accepted. He loved his time at the Cass. The teaching was superb as indeed were the tools available. As the lecturers were also earning good money in the trade, this was also encouraging. Add to the fact that he received his first major commissions while at the Cass, he decided that he would work as a silversmith.
During his studies he had used the money to establish a good workshop at home. So immediately after his diploma show in June 1969 he started work. He not only designed and made silver, but also undertook repairs and subcontract work. His working environment was not ideal as the room was only five foot high (which is why Grant maintains, he has a slight stoop) and was immediately below his father’s surgery – when Grant was busy hammering and his father wanted to examine a patient’s chest, he would stamp on the floor, which was a signal for Grant to be silent for a minute. In the early 1970s he moved out and eventually ended up renting sizable workshop space from Podolsky, the manufacturing jeweller in Clerkenwell. At first he worked alone, but when the business expanded he took on employees. It was at this time that he developed a process known as electro texturing and electro forming. He had been interested in gold plating (ie gilding) silver. So as to achieve a smooth finish, the receiving surfaces and the solution in the plating tank must respectively be physically and chemically 100 per cent clean. ‘However, if you actually introduce dirt, dust or filings these touch the pieces being plated’, Grant explained. ‘As the deposit builds up, it will accelerate the look of the introduced matter and create a texturing.’ Grant used this on everything from cuff links to the stems of goblets.
At this point, the business was making silver and jewellery (a fact he married a jeweller influenced the latter). Initially he made the silver that he wanted to make but his outlook soon became demand led and his business boomed. He would travel to leading county jewellers out of town twice a year and in London his creations from paper knives to boxes, from centrepieces to condiments could be found at Asprey, Collingwood and Dunhill. By the mid-1970s he was starting to outgrow his premises as he employed five silversmiths and three jewellers. He moved to ones nearly double the size in Benjamin Street and concentrated on silversmithing. In 1977 the business, in common with all in the trade, experienced a tremendous demand as the Queen celebrated her Silver Jubilee. The number of his employees was growing and he clearly wanted more space.
It so happened that at this time Gerald Benney’s Bear Lane workshop at Southwark came on the market. Comprising 10,000 square feet and two car parks, it had been on the market for 18 months. The workshop was over 10 times the size of his current premises. Grant thought it was too large, as did everyone else he consulted, or who wanted to express an opinion. Nevertheless, Grant went ahead and acquired it – after all, he had 12 employees. Amazingly, it only took three working days to move in. Although the move did not make sense at the time, it proved to be a decision made with foresight.
In 1978 he received a large private commission for a complete dining service comprising a large canteen and 60 other items. Clarendon Fine Art also started to market a range of Grant’s domestic items as well as gifts. Although Grant was not a stranger to the export market, he decided to explore the possibilities further. He did shows in New York and Toronto and usually sold sufficient to cover expenses. He also registered with the Board of Trade’s ‘enquiry card system’. Basically if the Board received an enquiry from overseas relating to silver, it would be passed to Grant. In due course he received an enquiry from a Palace in the Middle East relating to a presentation gift to the President of France. When Grant responded, it transpired that the Board has not been efficient as the order had long since been placed elsewhere. However, it was suggested that Grant ‘drop by sometime, as they were always placing orders’. Grant did just that and although not straightforward, did eventually meet his contact. After three further visits he managed to secure a significant order. They must have liked the objects Grant supplied and the service that he provided as now he is the purveyor of royal gifts in the Gulf. His work takes the form of ceremonial swords and daggers, clocks, medals, sculptures and complete dining services. On occasions his company has ordered so much gold that it has had an affect on the gold price. The largest piece he has crafted for the Middle East is a silver and silver gilt cake stand in the form of a palm tree. With a height of 11 feet, it weighs half a ton. However, the largest ever piece produced in his workshop has been the Orb and Cross which the people of the UK presented to the people of Dresden as a gift of reconciliation. Weighing 1.5 tons, it now sits on top of the rebuilt Dresden Cathedral.
Although over 90 per cent pf Grant Macdonald Limited’s output is exported, the UK is not forgotten. He has undertaken a good deal of work in the City of London, including over 20 Sheriff’s Badges and numerous silver caskets in which the scrolls of the Freedom of the City of London are presented to visiting dignitaries. His workshop employs over 20 people. As well as using traditional silversmithing methods Grant Macdonald has always been at the cutting edge of modern technology. In the 1980s he turned his attention to cutting silver with lasers, while more recently he has been using rapid prototyping machines that allow computer-generated designs to be translated into resins that can be used for directly casting in metal. It is used for intricate open work handles for cutlery and the stems of goblets. As Grant says, ‘I firmly believe that you can blend tradition with technology.’ Not only does he believe it, but he has been there and proved it.
Grant Macdonald and The Pearson Silver Collection We bought our first pieces of Grant Macdonald in 1996. Although we only have a few of his 1970s pieces, it is a reasonable cross-section of his output during that decade. We have one example of his late 80s/early 90s silver made for the UK – a small Hill Samuel centrepiece used as a long service award. These are perhaps his most encountered pieces of his output. We are fortunate in having one of his pieces made for the Middle Eastern market. Louise and Joseph have a mutual favourite – the 1973 sherry goblets. Here the stems are textured using electro texturing and electro forming, a process Grant experimented with in the 1970s. Interestingly they came with their original invoice. The purchaser bought six in July and a further two in the November of 1973. He paid £47.50 each – a total of £380. We purchased the eight in 1999 for £440. Today, these would have a value around £1200. However, £380 in 1973 is equivalent to £3800 at 2010 prices, having taken inflation into account over the past 37 years, which gives food for thought.
Although he trained as a silversmith, he did not actually make a piece of silver commercially and never entered his maker’s mark. However, he is generally considered to have designed more silver than any anybody else in the first half of the 20th century. For most of his professional life he worked for Garrard’s the Crown Jewellers, designing everything from caddy spoons to maces.
Alex George Styles was born in Stratford, East London, in 1922 but was brought up at Gravesend in Kent. Having artistic leanings, he was fortunate in obtaining an Arts Scholarship that meant that half the week he undertook his regular studies at the local technical college and the other half at the Gravesend School of Art. The curriculum at the art school was broad and as well as including life drawing and classical art training, covered other subjects from cabinet making to sculpture, but significantly for Alex, had a good silversmithing department. His scholarship over, he continued there for a further two years of more advanced studies. It soon became apparent to him that his penchant was for design and silversmithing. Although he designed and made pieces at this period, he never registered his maker’s mark, the pieces bearing the sponsor’s mark of the Gravesend School of Art.
As his studies in Kent drew towards a close, Alex was awarded a High Exhibition to London’s Central School of Arts and Craft (CSAC). Here he continued life drawing and life modelling as well as studying in the silversmithing department under Francis Adam and Emerson Hammond. Following the outbreak of World War II, the CSAC was evacuated to Northampton. As Alex knew that it would not be long before he was called up to the RAF, he joined the staff in a staff munitions training scheme. He was called up for service at the end of 1941 and like Leslie Durbin, soon found himself in the Modelmakers’ Section of the Central Interpretation Unit. At the end of the War Alex organised an art-modelling course in India under the force’s Educational and Vocational Training Scheme. Demobbed in 1946, he was given the opportunity to return to the CSAC, but decided he would establish his own design practice.
His first port of call was to make an appointment with Bertie Pittman, the designer and a partner in the large silversmithing company of Wakely and Wheeler. Pittman recalled while a City and Guilds adjudicator the chalice and paten Alex submitted at Gravesend as part of his examination. Looking through Alex’s portfolio he spotted a photograph of the wax model of an Indian’s head Alex had executed while in India. Although he could not offer him work, he relayed what he had seen to John Hodges, the chairman of the London retailers, The Goldsmiths & Silversmiths Co Limited (Goldsmiths & Silversmiths) of 112 Regent Street. Hodges was interested and asked Alex to make an appointment to see him. Instead of being promised some ad hoc design work, he was offered a post as a full-time designer. He was to have a studio totally independent of John Day, the company’s current designer. Alex accepted, but within a few days was offered the post of designer by Garrard & Co Limited (Garrard), the Crown Jewellers of Abermarle and Grafton Street. Although flattered to receive a counter offer, he considered Goldsmiths & Silversmiths the more sympathetic to modern design, so turned down Garrard. A little later Day retired and Alex was offered his post. In 1952, Goldsmiths & Silversmiths merged with Garrard with the latter moving into the former’s Regent Street premises. Hodges became the merged concern’s new chairman, which traded as Garrard. As Hodges backed Alex Styles’ philosophy of modern silver design,112 Regent Street was the only place to buy contemporary designed silver in London.
During his 40+ years in a design studio, the range of silver Alex designed embraced the complete spectre of domestic silverware from caddy spoons to candelabra and included everything such as tea and coffee services, centrepieces, tankards, goblets, boxes, candlesticks as well. However, his output went far beyond domestic items. He developed a considerable reputation for presentation pieces and awards. Indeed, he completely transformed this genre away from the traditional two-handled cup with or without a cover to objects that were sculptural and reflected the purpose of the award. This step change occurred in 1963 when the agricultural implement manufacturers Massey Ferguson decided to launch a National Award for Services to UK Agriculture. Alex persuaded them to abandon tradition. His suggested imaginative trophy took the form of an abstract representation of two protective hands. He explained, ‘The outsides are machine smooth, while the insides are rough to signify the earthy nature of the industry. They are protecting the emergent new growth in gilt.’ Massey Ferguson not only liked the concept, but they thought it was a sufficiently strong image to use a graphic interpretation as a logo. Of course, after the first company had broken with tradition, it was easy to persuade others to do so. Alex’s trophies embraced all sports and were also undertaken for a wide range or corporate clients. This was not the first occasion that he had persuaded clients to abandon convention. In the mid-1950s he persuaded the Borough of Slough to move away from the ceremonial style mace in favour of a form that reflected its original purpose as a weapon of war. This he did by, ‘restoring some of its former vigour’.
Whereas many of the designer-silversmiths were greatly influenced by Scandinavia, Alex Styles appears to have been the exception. When this was put to him, he responded, ‘We were all influenced by the Scandinavians’. While this can be seen in some of his work in the 1950s and indeed into the early 1960s, a significant part of his 1950s is post war modernism. In the 1960s, which in our view is Alex’s golden era, his style changes as if to reflect the change of mood from post war austerity, rock and roll and hoola hoops to the era of pop and a modern lifestyle. Indeed, in the 1960s, his pieces become far more sculptural with sauceboats that appear to be flying and tea and coffee services that vary from having unusually long slender spouts to short stumpy ones. In the 1970s, when there was a demand for silver in London from the Middle East, Alex turned his attention to designing objects in the Islamic style. These were not reproduction of antique pieces, but Alex’s modern take on traditional pieces from the past. They certainly found a ready market.
Alex has this to say about silver for the home, ‘Domestic silver has been called “functional sculpture”. In other words, it has to have the essential quality of sculptural form and its effect on the space around it – but it must also be fit for purpose – it must function.’ One thing that he is adamant about is, ‘You can’t design without knowing silversmithing techniques.’ He immediately added, ‘However, I would never dream of telling a silversmith how to make anything.’ Alex was unusual, though not unique, for although a leading designer of silver he made his last piece of silver while a student. Being a designer on paper is one thing, but how did the rendering of a proposed object transform into a three dimensional finished item when its execution was undertaken by a third party? There was no hesitation when Alex answered this question, ‘I would go to the workshop and say essentially what I wanted with regard to the underlying shape and the proportions. If it was a large and complex piece, such as a mace, I may have said that I wanted to see it at a particular stage to check proportions. Whenever I drew anything, I could also see it three dimensionally in my mind.’ So, where did Alex get his inspiration from when designing a piece? It is clear that he had a very fertile and innovative mind. Additionally, he would visit museums and art galleries. As he would say to his new assistants, ‘By all means be aware of the different periods of silver, but go round galleries and become aware of modern pictures and sculpture too.’
Alex Styles retired from Garrard in 1987, the year in which the Company held a major retrospective of his work at Goldsmiths’ Hall.
Alex Styles and The Pearson Silver Collection The Collection has a reasonable, though not comprehensive, representation of Alex’s work dating from the mid-1950s to the late 1960s. Our first acquisition was made in 1996. Louise’s favourite piece is the box made in 1957, its edge decorated with stags and motifs in the Celtic style against a royal blue enamel background. On the other hand, Joseph has always liked the sleek shape of the 1967 sauce boat and stand. John Andrew met Alex in 2009 with Derek Styles (no relation, but of Styles Silver of Hungerford, in connection with a book they are writing on Post War British Silver).