Sheffield’s Silver Plated Success

Senior Curator of Humanities, Clare Starkie on an example of one of the key developments in Sheffield’s metalworking history:

Old Sheffield Plate is one of the greatest innovations in Sheffield’s history of metalwork production. The process, developed in the city around 1742 by Thomas Boulsover, creates a type of silver plated metal made by fusing a thin layer of silver onto a copper ingot. It was rolled out into sheets and used to make decorative objects that looked like silver but were about a third of the price.  

A great example of Old Sheffield Plate is this tea caddy, which was made in Sheffield around 1807 by Thomas Bradbury Junior on completing his apprenticeship. Every apprentice had to give proof of his skills by making one item called a ‘masterpiece’, without any help, at the end of their period of indenture. Thomas was an apprentice for seven years to the silversmithing and plating firm Watson and Bradbury (part owned by his father Thomas Bradbury Senior) and would have had to learn a wide range of metalworking skills from hammering to joining, hand decorating to polishing.

This simple but beautifully made piece demonstrates Bradbury’s talent. Around the lid is an applied silver band with engraved decoration with silver wire soldered onto the corners, this would hide the copper beneath and make the caddy look more like silver when new.

Thomas and his father took over the firm when William Watson retired in 1831. The firm was based at Arundel Street, Sheffield with aLondon showroom at 12 Gough Square, Fleet Street. The company finished trading in 1943 and their equipment was bought by Atkin Brothers of Sheffield.

Designed for storing loose leaf tea, tea caddies were made mostly in the 1700s and 1800s and have compartments or containers inside for the black or green tea. This one has a keyhole at the front, as tea was expensive it was thought necessary to keep it locked away to avoid theft by servants. 

This is one of around 500 objects of Old Sheffield Plate in the city’s Metalwork Collection. Most of the Old Sheffield Plate in the collection was acquired by the city in 1943 by Frederick Bradbury, who was actually a descendant of the maker of this caddy.

Image: © Museums Sheffield

Oct 13 2011

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