Table of Contents
Early days-Silver substitutes-Weighty silver-The reign of Victoria -Great trade movement-Silver to-day.
IT is probably at this rather than any other period that we bring to bear the relationship between contemporary surroundings and the work of the craftsmen. There are still in present-day households abundant relics of the everyday things of the nineteenth century. Yet, although not far distant, the appointments of the household in its entirety as it was, say, fifty years ago is seldom found, for changes have been more rapid in furniture, china, plate and the like during recent years. The antiques, modern things they were at the respective periods of their use, which we prize are rarely possessed in other than odd pieces ; the entire furnishing of a room with its full equipment of china, silver, brass, and sundry nicknacks which always harmonised so well in the eighteenth century and earlier periods is not available. === EARLY DAYS. The early days of the nineteenth century were but a continuation of the Georgian period ; and although customs were changing slowly there is not much appreciable difference-it was as if the social life and the gay doings of the Georges were fading away leaving little new or interesting to take their place. Furniture was good and solid ; upholstery was heavy and not very beautiful ; even the charm of the needlework with which the prim dames of that day occupied their spare time, was losing its brightness, and stiff and formal designs of no artistic beauty took the place of the pictorial scenes and other work of an early date. Naturally all these things had an influence upon the handicraft of the silversmith, and although he shaped the dishes, vases, and the newer coffee pots and urns more in accordance with the times, making them somewhat smaller and less cumbersome, they were still strong and substantial, and there was no stint in the amount of silver used up in their making. The beautiful and decorative ornament which was in keeping with the Chippendale style, and the ribbon and wreath decoration which had become so general in the last quarter of the eighteenth century gradually disappeared, and the ornament of the early days of the nineteenth century was for the most part stiff and formal. The engraver seemed to have lost the charm of his light touch, and when placing monograms and crests upon table silver, instead of embellishing them with the beautiful and ornate scroll work, and light decorative ornament which had been so marked until the new century dawned, he used plain block letters, and even crests were devoid of any adornment, other than simple arms, very frequently indifferently copied. This is often noticeable in the reproduction of crests and armorial bearings early in the century, for it is no uncommon thing for there to be different interpretations of the same arms, and some grotesque caricatures of heraldic emblems introduced instead of the greater conformity to the dictum of Herald's College which was always a feature in the early engraving. Perhaps it was because at an earlier period more importance was attached to armorial embellishment and correct rendering than in the nineteenth century when heraldry was for the most part neglected. In the early days of the century sterling silver was regarded as the proper material from which to fashion domestic plate, but the time had already come when other materials were made use of, and substitutes were found for sterling silver. Needless to say, pewter had for centuries been used side by side with the more expensive silver, but that was a well known compound metal, and although used concurrently few would confuse pewter vessels with those made of sterling silver. The time had arrived, however, when greater prominence was to be given to good substitutes.