The reign of Queen Victoria, also known as “Victorian Era”, is one of the longest periods of peace and prosperity in Britain’s history, spanning from 1837 to 1901. The prolonged, steady and widespread wealth, due to the political, economic, industrial and colonial consolidation of the British Empire, reflected on many of the contemporary aspects of social life such as literature, art, architecture, fashion, jewellery and silverware.
Silver was highly valued during this period and large silver table services became an essential requirement for aristocratic and emerging middle-class families.
The Victorian style applied to decorative art is generally characterised by an ornamental design, with chased and embossed relief-work with flowers, scrolling leaves and birds, often featuring cartouches engraved with initials, family crests or coat of arms. Silverware became increasingly popular, impressive and original in style. Neo-Rococo, Oriental, Neo-Renaissance and neo-Gothic are just few of the many patterns used by silversmiths between the mid-19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century.
Under her reign, Queen Victoria commissioned numerous impressive silver table garnitures and fabulous centrepieces to important contemporary firms, some of which were consequently rewarded with a Royal Warrant.
Robert Garrard was one the most preeminent Royal silversmiths and jewellers of the period, specializing in the production of magnificent sculptural pieces. The firm, later Garrard & Co, was appointed Royal Silversmiths and Crown Jeweller in 1843.
Another important Victorian firm was Elkington & Co, founded in 1836. They patented the revolutionary techniques for electrotyping, plating and gilding and won prizes in numerous International Exhibitions.
Carrington & Co was founded in 1780 and obtained Royal Warrants from Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, Edward VII, George V and the Russian Tsars.
Hunt and Roskell (John Hunt and Robert Roskell), were silversmiths and jewellers to Queen Victoria and other European Royal families. The company was founded by Paul Storr in 1819, later Storr & Mortimer (1822-38), Mortimer & Hunt (John Samuel Hunt, 1838-43) and finally Hunt & Roskell (1843-97).
Each of these important silversmiths produced some of the most extraordinary silver examples made during the Victorian era, many of which are nowadays held in Royal collections or museums such as the Victoria & Albert in London and the Metropolitan in New York.
Victorian silver doesn’t necessarily mean large services and big pieces. The so called “Novelty silver” appealed to a wide range of collectors looking for unusual, surprising and rare designs which applied to all sort of objects: enamelled vesta cases, embossed “castle top” card cases, vinaigrettes and snuff boxes, erotic cigarette cases, figural pepperettes, cruet sets and tea caddies, scent bottles, and much more.
During the late 19th Century, and, subsequently, during the early 20th Century with the reign of King Edward VII (1901-1910), the taste changed. The Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts styles became more and more popular across Europe and the United States, emphasizing organic and naturalistic stylized lines and floral patterns. During this period important English designers, such as Charles Ashbee for the Guild of Andicraft, Archibald Knox for Liberty & Co, Omar Ramsden and Alwyn Carr produced silverware in the Arts & Crafts style, challenging the Victorian industrialism and bringing the concept of design and authorship to a new level.