Friday, April 22, 2011

British Decorative silver styles and dates - part 3

From Gold and Silver Hallmarks

To understand and collect Silver it is important to handle and view as much of it as you can.

By examining and comparing Silver close up you can see and notice details that can’t be conveyed in a picture.

It is also important to have an understanding of the historical styles of the silversmiths. This helps to classify silver and also to date the Silver you are looking at.

Although not all the styles are listed here, the list that follows represents the most popular British silver decorative styles.

Arts & Crafts

The Arts and crafts movement came into being with the founding of the Art Workers Guild in 1884, followed by the Arts and Crafts exhibition society four years later.  It was not only an aesthetic movement but also a social one; expressing the widespread dissatisfaction with the quality of mass produced items. An admiration for folk art and for the old guilds of medieval craftsmen was also apparent. Large silver manufacturing companies realized that a precious metal and mass production did not really work well together so they turned to artists and designers for guidance.

The principle beliefs of the Arts and Crafts movement was that items should always be what they seemed, no jugs disguised as castle turrets etc, the decoration should enhance the piece not conceal it, silver should never be made to do something out of character.  The hand hammered finish is one of the main characteristics of this style. The smiths encouraged the inequalities of surfaces and as a result the pieces catch the eye in a way the precision and symmetry of machine made objects do not.

Its ideas were started by John Ruskin and given expression by William Morris, the movement also influenced workers such as Charles Robert Ashbee. Ashbee believed that good design and craftsmanship could not come out of mechanical and industrial organizations. This could be said about silversmithing as the use of machinery was by no means essential.  He put his ideas into practice in 1887 when he founded the School and Guild of Handicraft, shapes were kept as simple as possible.


Characterised by oriental style engraving and applied decoration. Often incorporating bamboo, birds of paradise, cranes, butterflies, and stylized fan-work. Was at its height during the 1860's through the 1880's, but became over-elaborate and was left  behind by major interest in the cleaner lines of the Arts & Crafts movement.

Art Nouveau

This style was first introduced to England circa 1890, and was a product of the Arts and Crafts movement started by William Morris et al and the pre-Raphaelites.  It was a revolt against the mass produced wares of the Victorian era and was adapted to silverware showing free flowing lines, often asymmetrical, with intertwining floral patterns, insects and female faces depicting a great influence from Japanese Art.

The main characteristic seen in most Art Nouveau pieces is a long line with a quick curve at the end this has been said to be reflective of the social mood of the time. Eventually it was its own extravagance that led to its demise.

Art Deco

A style that became popular in the late 1920s and early 1930s, it was a movement against the naturalistic feel of the Art Nouveau designs.  Art Deco drew together various elements, such as structured floral motifs, stylized curves, geometric shapes and abstract patterns.  These ideas ran simultaneously with the cubist movement in fine Art and similarities of the bold graphic shapes are obvious.


In the 1950s there came about a complete change in style. Post-war Britain had a renewed interest in form, with the emphasis on sleek modern shapes.  Form did not necessarily have to follow function, form was the most important factor. The early 1960s saw the Modernist ideal of pure line and form, together with unadorned surfaces challenge the traditional equation of high style.

The admiration for hand made items did not blind the new generation of craftsman against the potentials of mass production, their aim was to balance mechanization and hand finish so that silver was again being put to its best use, as a metal for items of luxury and decoration.

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