Might & Magnificence: Georgian Silver Exhibition Opens Today

 A selling exhibition at The London Silver Vaults, Chancery Lane.  2 June to 4 October 2014. Guest Curator Philippa Glanville

The Summer selling exhibition at the London Silver Vaults, Might & Magnificence: Silver in the Georgian Age, opens today. Guest curator is silver historian Philippa Glanville, former Keeper of Metalwork at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Key pieces selected by Philippa will demonstrate the finest Georgian design and craftsmanship drawn from all 30 Vaults shops, and encompass the major design trends of the period, from unrestrained rococo to elegant neo-classical..  All items are for sale, offering an opportunity to acquire a piece of domestic silver that was made for and used by the Georgians.

Georgian Britain spanned the 120 years from George I’s accession in 1714 to the end of William IV’s reign in 1837.  The country became the most successful European economy of the 18th and early 19th centuries. The aspiring middle classes wanted to buy impressive objects for their homes like the aristocratic and wealthy and silver was one of the most popular expressions of taste and style. Innovative manufacturing techniques from the likes of Josiah Wedgwood and Matthew Boulton ensured a flow of novel objects for these new consumers.

There were two contrasting style trends in the Georgian period:  the unrestrained styles such as rococo, gothic and chinoiserie. appearing from the 1730s and, from the 1750s, the classical styles closely associated with architect and designer Robert Adam.

The ornate styles like rococo were costly to produce by hand and so fewer examples exist. But Robert Adam’s version of neo-classicism, fanned by news of archaeological discoveries at Herculanaeum, set off a revolution in style and translated well in to silver design. The floral and leaf-patterned swag, the face or ‘grotesque’, small repeat dots or beading, fluted columns and geometric shapes were easily replicated on silver in low-relief applied decoration or by ‘bright cut’ engraving.

Until the 1760s silver was mostly made by hand.  These heavy pieces meant silver was a super-luxury product, as it was priced by weight. With the invention of Sheffield Plate, however, a base material such as copper could be coated with a super thin film of silver. This silver plate could be bought for as little as a fifth of the price of the solid version.

Shopping Lists!   Setting up home upon marriage was a major time for shopping in a Georgian’s life. Women acquired silverwares relating to tea, as the taking of tea dominated feminine society. So, teapot, tea kettle, tea tray, sugar basin, tongs and teaspoons, strainers and tea caddies were essential. The rise in popularity of wine and fortified wines generated a variety of gentlemanlike accoutrements such as decanters, wine jugs, wine funnels and labels, coasters for bottles, punch bowls and wine coolers. Table decorations for the dining room and a profusion of candelabra in the drawing room displayed social status, wealth and taste.

Personal accessories included snuff and spice boxes, walking canes with silver tops, vinaigrettes (for smelling salts) and calling card cases. Travellers required their own set of portable kit, from compact cutlery sets to tooth brushes. At the (his and hers) dressing table, essentials for the toilette were silver pots for pins, potions, powder (for wigs and face) perfume and beauty spots.

The majority of silver for sale in the 30 shops at the London Silver Vaults is of the domestic variety. Customers can acquire beautiful pieces to decorate their homes, find a lasting gift for a special occasion or add to their collections. Between them the shops offer the largest selection of silver for sale in the world. Most of it is English, and a good proportion from the Georgian period. Opening times 9 to 5.30 weekdays, 9 to 1pm Saturdays. more…

portrait picture of philippa glanville