Silversmiths and Silverware in late 18th and early 19th century Birmingham

1773 - 1850 (c.)

Image: Silver caddy spoon, probably by Samuel Pemberton, c.1800. The delicate design is created by a filigree technique using wire.

Image from: Birmingham Assay Office.

Text: Olga Baird and Malcolm Dick

Photographs: Kinson Chan (November 2003)


Matthew Boulton created the modern silver trade in Birmingham. His successful campaign to establish a local assay office provided a hallmarking system to guarantee the silver content of locally manufactured items. This allowed the trade to develop a reputation for high quality products. Except for Boulton, little or nothing is known about most of Birmingham’s silversmiths. Some evidence can be obtained from Birmingham Assay Office records, directories and the work that they produced.

The returns of the Birmingham Assay Office list the names, premises and marks of silversmiths. They also provide an indication of the growth of the local silver making trade. In 1774, 16,983 ounces were assayed, rising to 61,220 ounces in 1779. During the 1780s and 1790s, the trade experienced a recession, but after 1800 figures rose, reaching 105,452 ounces in 1811 and 111,811 ounces in 1825. Smaller amounts were assayed in the next 14 years and the 1825 figure was not surpassed until 1839.

Though the Soho Works of Boulton and his successors contributed to this expansion silver production was also located in small family businesses and factories throughout Birmingham. They made a range of items including tapersticks, bowls, buttons, buckles, caddy spoons, vinaigrettes, snuff boxes and babies rattles.

This exhibition provides information about the local silversmiths and a selection of silver products from the collections of Birmingham Assay Office (www.theassayoffice.co.uk). The Revolutionary Players Project is grateful for the permission granted by Birmingham Assay Office to photograph items in its collections.

Continue browsing this section

3953-0Silversmiths and Silverware in late 18th and early 19th century Birmingham 91-0Birmingham Silversmiths: the Taylors 3954-0Birmingham Silversmiths: The Pembertons 125-0Birmingham Silversmiths: The Willmores and Linwoods 3982-0Birmingham Silversmiths: Nathaniel Mills 3973-0Birmingham Silversmiths: William Lea & Co 3970-0Vinaigrette, Maker unidentified, 1817 4878-0Pair of Vinaigrettes, Joseph Willmore, 1825 Vinaigrette, Nathaniel Mills, 1835Vinaigrette, Nathaniel Mills, 1835 Vinaigrette, Nathaniel Mills, 1835Vinaigrette, Nathaniel Mills, 1835 Snuff Box, Thomas Shaw, 1825Snuff Box, Thomas Shaw, 1825 Caddy Spoon, No maker’s mark, 1797Caddy Spoon, No maker’s mark, 1797 3950-0Caddy Spoon, No maker’s mark, 1797 3952-0Caddy Spoon, probably Samuel Pemberton, c.1800 3965-0Toothpick Box, Samuel Pemberton, 1793 3964-0Silver Oral Hygiene items, Joseph Taylor, 1797 3959-0Nutmeg Grater, probably Samuel Pemberton, c.1800 3958-0Nutmeg Grater, probably Samuel Pemberton, c.1800 3961-0Churchwarden’s Pipe, Joseph Taylor, 1790 3976-0Box, Joseph Taylor, 1819 4995-0Lancet Case, Joseph Taylor, 1826 3983-0Child’s Rattle, George Unite, 1837 3985-0Pair of shoe buckles, Thomas Willmore, 1782 3993-1Set of Sixteen Buttons, Thomas Willmore, 1790 3994-0Two of a Set of Sixteen buttons, Thomas Willmore, 1790 3992-0Taperstick, Joseph Willmore, 1831 4996-0Soup Tureen, G.R.Collis & Co. 1837
Sources and Further Reading

Birmingham Gold and Silver. 1773-1973. Exhibition Catalogue (Birmingham, 1973).
Honour, H, Goldsmiths and Silversmiths (London, 1971)
Kenneth, C J, The Silversmiths of Birmingham (1981)
Lever, C, Goldsmiths and Silversmiths of England (London, 1975)
Matthew Boulton and the Toymakers: Silver from the Birmingham Assay Office. Catalogue of an exhibition held at Goldsmiths’ Hall, Foster Lane, London 15th -26th November, 1982 (Birmingham, 1982)