A century of Stainless steel

May 16 2012

Museums Sheffield’s Curator of Metalwork, Lucy Cooper on the preparations to celebrate next year’s centenary of the discovery of Stainless steel in Sheffield.

2013 will mark 100 years since Stainless steel was discovered by Sheffield’s Harry Brearley. Museums Sheffield is working hard in the run up to the centenary to ensure that this historic event is celebrated and commemorated in style. A city-wide arts and heritage partnership will see us working with Sheffield Assay Office, the Company of Cutlers and Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust to plan a series of events and activities throughout the year, at the heart of which will be an exhibition held in the Millennium Gallery from spring to autumn 2013.

Stainless steel objects in the city’s Designated Metalwork Collection are currently being researched and new pieces collected to prepare for the exhibition. The majority of pieces in the collection are cutlery and flatware, the production of which made Sheffield a household name. There are examples from the early days of manufacture, when the exciting new discovery was worked into the first knife blades at the workshop of Robert Mosley of Portland Works, Sheffield.

The collection also includes some more recent pieces from Sheffield-based firms which survived the eventual collapse of the industry and still manufacture in and around the city today. Where possible, we’re actively collecting new examples reflecting the current industry, often thanks to the generosity of firms kindly donating examples of their products. 

Although Sheffield was most celebrated for its manufacture of cutlery, many firms also produced popular lines of Stainless steel hollowware, hollow tableware which serve as containers such as a teapot or serving dishes, which made their way into millions of homes. This Viners teaset from 1965 is one of the star pieces of our current Metalwork Collection displays.


As research continues, we’ll be looking for more objects and stories which contribute to the Stainless story and interviewing current and former workers to collect testimonies which reveal their personal insights into life in the industry. A new object handling box containing Stainless steel items will be created and used with school and community groups to prompt discussion and reminiscence.

Stainless steel today will be a strong theme of the exhibition and we're looking for new examples of design which demonstrate the myriad of ways in which the material is used in the 21st century. Designers and makers in the city will be encouraged to create new pieces to celebrate the centenary, with some of the most innovative designs going on display.

Our search for contemporary designs got off to a great start last week when we won a fantastic new work in Stainless steel by Japanese textile artist Kyoko Kumai at the COLLECT craft fair. The intricate woven creation shows the incredible versatility the material and is a wonderful celebration of the global legacy of Sheffield’s remarkable innovation.  

Knife, Robert F Mosley Ltd, Sheffield, Stainless steel and xylonite, 1930s
Teaset, Viners Ltd, Sheffield, Stainless steel, 1965


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